The Good Dinosaur (2015)
Dir: Peter Sohn
I grew up on films like ‘The Land Before Time’ and this really reminded me of that in some ways, especially the charm and of course the dinosaurs.
Young Apatosaurus Arlo gets swept away from his home and has to find his way back with the help of an unusual companion, a human child he calls Spot.
There’s plenty to like about this film. It’s really charming, looks beautiful and has an almost old-school sense of adventure that took me back to many films from my childhood. In the packed cinema I saw it in the children seemed to be really engrossed and enjoying themselves, so it clearly worked for the target audience. I even know of at least a couple of adults who really enjoyed it to the point of tears.
What makes it work is the characters, Arlo, who is endearing and motivated by love and family, and Spot, who is cute and funny while being distinctly dog-like. This central pairing helps elevate the film above its simple and unoriginal storyline, with the animation being a world beyond any other Dinosaur film of this kind, something to enjoy if the story doesn’t captivate you enough.
Oddly though I feel this has more to thank Disney for than Pixar, as it feels more like something that would be just as suited to their animation department, not fully making use of the characteristic inventiveness of Pixar. I thought the story might be more inventive when I initially believed the premise was going to be ‘what if the dinosaurs hadn’t been wiped out?’ This is only slightly touched on in the film, one of the best moments in which the meteor skims the atmosphere overhead, causing no more than a momentary distraction. Instead, it takes a different path, meandering very close to animated films that have gone before.
Some have said it’s not them at their best though a few things to remember when considering why that may be the case: 1) In 2015 Pixar released two films, while there’s usually around a whole year between their releases. 2) The other Pixar film was ‘Inside Out‘ which had more high praise than almost any other animated film in a very long time, winning almost every animation award going as well as being incredibly inventive so this struggles to feel special in comparison. 3) People said exactly the same things about ‘Cars’ in 2006 (and again to some degree with ‘Cars 2’), yet look how much that grew on people, especially the target audience of children and a decade on a third ‘Cars’ is now in production with the merchandise never being out of it. Lastly, 4) It’s an original Pixar film. Let’s not forget how increasingly rare original films of any sort are and they are declining at Disney/Pixar too. Their forthcoming titles include ‘Toy Story 4’, ‘Cars 3’ and ‘The Incredibles 2’, not that I’m not looking forward to these and hoping they will be fantastic, they very well may be and I truly hope so. Nevertheless the amount of original stories in films is declining rapidly, so treating this harshly would likely be shooting ourselves in the foot as it’ll just encourage Disney to scrap originals in favour of sequels.
There are serious flaws with this film, most especially there’s a really mis-judged scene in which the leads have an hallucinogenic trip. It will/should go straight over kids heads and adds absolutely nothing to telling the story that not only would the film not suffer from it being cut out but would absolutely benefit. Such a scene makes me think it wasn’t best-foot-forward with this, a little less workload at the company may have made all the difference.
It’s true this is not Pixar at their best, though it’s nothing they need be ashamed of. Where the studio has excelled in the past is making films that felt unique, something only they could handle so well and in making them appeal to all ages so there was something to be enjoyed by everyone. This does fall short on those past strengths, in that it doesn’t feel so original, I’ve seen films about young dinosaurs (and other creatures) finding their way home before. It also feels far more targeted at children and not whole families. However, in making a film that has a familiar even nostalgic sense of journey and adventure that will appeal to children, they are pretty much hitting the mark. Maybe we have just all gotten used to Pixar redefining what the ‘mark’ is.
I have strong feeling this will go on to be far more loved over time. Young children never seem to stop loving dinosaurs and there hasn’t been a really good and charming film like this featuring the extinct creatures in a while, so it has a constantly renewing target audience. It won’t have the same effect as ‘Cars’ yet I think it’ll become one of those films that most saw when they were young and may even remember with fondness when it comes on TV over holidays.
‘The Good Dinosaur’ was nominated in 2016 for the BAFTA for ‘Best Animated Feature’ though it lost to the other Pixar offering ‘Inside Out‘. It’s available to buy/rent from all the usual outlets.