I’ve been an avid fan of Pixar since “Toy Story” and have made the point to see each and every one of their movies at some point. While I, like many people, think the bulk of their work has been outstanding, there have been a few bumps in the road. I’ve found stuff like “Cars”, “Monsters University” and “Brave” to be very average at best, and also agree with most that “Cars 2” has been Pixar’s worst film so far. With an amazing release earlier this year in the form of “Inside Out,” I was a bit wary going into “The Good Dinosaur” thanks to hearing about its troubled production and lackluster reception. Did I find it to be all that bad? Well, let’s take a look at the plot and find out.
In an alternate timeline, the fateful meteor meant to wipe out the dinosaurs instead bypasses Earth. This allows dinosaurs to flourish and even live during the age of man (specifically, Neanderthals). One day, an Apatosaurus named Arlo is separated from his family and teams up with a little Neanderthal boy known as Spot. The two head on a journey together to get Arlo home, soon becoming friends in the process. But their journey is fraught with many dangers, including other dinosaurs. Will Arlo be reunited with his family, or will the danger be too much for him to overcome?
This movie felt…messy. For starters, the writing lends no favors to either the plot or characters. Both are riddled with cliches and borrow elements from other Disney flicks like “The Lion King”, “Home on the Range” (I’ll get to that in a second), and “Homeward Bound.” The plot was your run-of-the-mill story that smashes together a moral about facing your fears with an “I must get home” journey. Because of this, I found it hard to get invested in much of what was going on. I DID end up liking the relationship that unfolds between Arlo and Spot and a couple emotional scenes worked for me, but again, it’s a plot that’s nothing new and in many cases has been done better. I also found it jarring how violent the movie could get at times. Sure, it’s set in a majorly “kill or be killed” time period, and Pixar has mentioned death and killing in other movies, but for some reason it bugged me here. Maybe it’s because it stood out so harshly against the other bland stuff going on, but I digress.
As for characters, I found myself only really caring a slight amount for Arlo and Spot. The others mainly exist to exposit to Arlo or serve as obstacles. The voice acting didn’t do much for me either, aside from a couple decent performances. As I said above, one of the movie’s “inspirations” seemed to be “Home on the Range”…at least, the western aspect of it. Yes, you heard me right. This journey/road trip movie has western themes strung though it as well. This means that a few of the characters are there mainly as western stereotypes, such as raptors acting like cow hustlers or T-Rexes sitting around sharing campfire stories. I just felt it was an extremely bizarre choice and only served to make the movie feel unfocused in what it wanted to be.
I even found that some of the animation bugged me. In some ways, this could be argued as Pixar’s best-looking movie to date. Much of that, for me at least, came from the incredibly detailed backgrounds and overall world they created. The scenes from the trailers with the fireflies looked amazing, and I even loved smaller things like the water effects. My problem with the animation was the character models. When I initially saw the trailers for the movie, I wasn’t very impressed with the style of the dinosaurs. I thought Spot looked fine (Pixar continues to improve on its human characters), but the dinosaurs always looked a little TOO cartoony to me. Having seen the movie in full, I still feel the same way. There’s even a weird, totally unnecessary scene where the animation changes a bit to make things look like a drugged-out hallucination that just didn’t mesh with me at all.
So, with all my complaints, is “The Good Dinosaur” a bad movie? Well… I can say I put it down there with “Cars 2” as being both forgettable AND something I don’t want to see again. My biggest issue is, like with “Cars 2,” that the bad outweighs the good. However, while I disliked “Cars 2” because of how much it annoyed me (though I did love that Michael Caine spy car), this movie felt like a Pixar low point for the opposite reason: I was bored by it. For having a run-time of an hour and 40 minutes, it felt a heck of a lot longer than that. Honestly, it’s a shame that I have to echo what many people have felt about it. I wanted to at least like this movie. As it stands, a couple decent moments and (mostly) pretty animation wasn’t enough to save it for me. Better luck next time, Pixar.