a critiQal film review The Good Dinosaur (2015)

Plot: While traveling through a harsh and mysterious landscape, an Apatosaurus named Arlo (Ochoa) makes an unlikely human friend (Bright), learns the power of confronting his fears...and discovers what he is truly capable of.

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With everyone on Vudu® watching Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015), we decided to check out another Disney presentation: The Good Dinosaur. Sure, we may have been disappointed by Inside Out (2015) (while others raved), but we weren’t ready to count Pixar out yet. Would they be able to come back and win us over with their tale of a dino and his boy? Or would we have to just wait for Finding Dory (2016) to be happy with Pixar again?

Pixar has been really good over the years at finding the perfect voice for their characters, just like their new parent company Disney. Even Inside Out (2015), despite it’s flaws, had some solid voice casting. This time around, they use Raymond Ochoa as Arlo, the main character. Never heard of him? Not surprised. According to IMDb, he’s popped up in several movies, but mostly as “additional voices”. In this case, casting him seemed like a good choice. After all, having a dinosaur talk is odd enough. Breaking the viewer in by giving the dino a recognizable voice would have been much odder.

That’s not to say all the voices are entirely unrecognizable. With Arlo’s mom and dad played by Jeffrey Wright and Frances McDormand, there’s a hint of familiarity to them – even if you have to read the credits to figure out who the are. And that seems just what a mom and dad in an animated film should sound like – familiar, but you can’t quite place the voice. By far, the most recognizable voice is that of Butch, a wise T-Rex that Arlo meets on his journey. No surprise, this buffalo rustler is voiced by the very recognizable Sam Elliott. Other voice characters, including Anna Paquin and Steve Zahn, aren’t nearly as recognizable.

Surprisingly, while The Good Dinosaur is an original story by Pixar, the film borrows quite a bit from a Disney legend. While there is a lot less singing (ie….none), and the journey itself is wildly different, there are a few sequences that seem to have been copied from The Lion King (1994). Sure, the setting is slightly different, but the scenes are eerily similar nonetheless. That’s surprising, as Pixar is usually much more original. The rest of the film, in fact, gives a fresh take to the man/dino dynamic…which make these particular scenes so odd in their unoriginality.

That fresh take on the man/dino dynamic is sorely needed to differentiate The Good Dinosaur from other recent kid’s franchise, Ice Age (2002). This time around, even though the dinos talk and the people don’t, the people are showcased as dogs, with the boy playing up his puppy tendencies throughout. It’s a fresh and funny take on humans in the dino world, and brings most of the laughs of the film.

Thankfully, the twists don’t end with that relationship. Pixar manages to take the world of dinos viewers are used to and turns it on it’s ear, usually in unexpected ways. It’s a brilliant twist on dinos, creating the must human versions of dinos the viewer will probably ever see.

That being said, there seems to be something missing from The Good Dinosaur. It’s cute, it’s a bit heartwarming, and it’s enjoyable, true. But, it’s missing that spark that made previous Pixar efforts like Toy Story (1995), WALL-E (2008) and Finding Nemo (2003) so special. Maybe it’s the quick wrap-up at the end, with the cliched happy ending. Maybe it’s that the viewer never quite feels that Arlo truly makes up for his mistake early on. Maybe it’s that the film seems to be a bit too much of a by-the-numbers tale of growth, despite it’s unique surroundings.

That last one is probably it. Sure, a film has a beginning, a middle and an end, and the character needs to go on a journey of discovery that makes him a bit wiser by the end. But, it seems like The Good Dinosaur follows that a little too rigidly, making the viewer stop and notice the path along the way.

Definitely better than Pixar’s last outing, Inside Out (2015), The Good Dinosaur is a fresh take on the man/dino dynamic, and presents a few surprises along the way. But, with it’s pat ending and the viewer’s over-awareness of the points in this journey – not to mention some sequences seemingly lifted from The Lion King (1994) and inserted with just a background change – The Good Dinosaur isn’t quite up there with the best of Pixar. While that’s a bit disappointing, the film still has an appeal, and the whole family should enjoy a viewing or two.

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