The Good Dinosaur: Fantastic animation let down by a mediocre story

********* 6 out of 10 *********

Director: Peter Sohn

Actors: Raymond Ochoa, Frances McDormand, Jeffrey Wright

Pixar is known for its out-of-the-box thinking. Right from 1995, when it brought children’s toys to life, to earlier this year, when it gave faces to our emotions, Pixar has been in a league of its own, raising the standards of the animation industry. Barring Cars 2, I hardly remember feeling let-down by Pixar. Unfortunately, The Good Dinosaur comes close to doing that. For a studio that takes pride in the emotional attachment it manages to create with its characters, irrespective of your age group, The Good Dinosaur is a mediocre effort to achieve the same result, utilising mainstream tools and techniques to re-tell old tales. It lacks that one aspect that makes Pixar movies so special – the ability to turn into an adventure where the next step is unknown, waiting to be discovered.

The Good Dinosaur_Poster

The Good Dinosaur throws open a new world where the dinosaurs aren’t extinct. A family of Apatosaurus, Poppa (Jeffrey Wright), Momma (Frances McDormand) and their three kids, live as farmers, growing their own corn. The smallest of the three kids is Arlo (Raymond Ochoa) who is timid unlike the others. Poppa tries to teach his son Arlo to get through his fears, and assures him that he is much more than what he makes of himself. This is the courage that Arlo will have to discover when he finds himself lost in the wilderness far away from home, with a young human kid for company. As he heads back towards home, encountering many dangers on the way, Arlo and his human friend form a bond, and discover more about themselves.

The Good Dinosaur_Arlo and Spot

The production of The Good Dinosaur has been anything but easy. Bob Peterson, the director of Up, initially came up with the idea of the movie and started working on it way back in 2009. In 2011, Pixar even made a brief announcement about the movie with Peterson as the director. The movie was supposed to be released in November 2013. And then things started tearing up. Peterson was relieved of his duties as the director with Pixar making a strange statement that said Peterson was not able to ‘crack the film’s third act’. Over time, lot of other changes were announced by different people associated with the movie; the script went through changes; Arlo was to be voiced by someone younger than previously thought of; only Frances McDormand remained from the originally chosen cast for voicing the characters. The movie’s release was shifted to May 2014 and then to November 2015. And Peter Sohn was brought on board to direct the movie. The Good Dinosaur definitely did not have a smooth ride in its production phase and that comes across in the movie.  

The Good Dinosaur_Velociraptors

Pixar may have made many changes to the script of The Good Dinosaur but what the studio finally stuck with is a far cry from what you expect of a Pixar story. The movie’s elements are fairly predictable, with the idea of a young fellow fighting his fears and ‘growing up’ in an adventure having been done to death. The only difference here was the protagonist chosen was a dinosaur though it holds little significance. It may very well have been a wolf pup or a lion cub. Speaking of lions, there are a couple of places where the impact of The Lion King is easily noticeable, as if the makers ran out of ideas and chose to look up old Disney movie DVDs for inspiration. The movie’s opening 15 minutes or so are lethargic, which would thrill no one other than those who are watching an animated movie for the first time. The film gradually picks up pace resulting in a much better second half than the first. While I am being harsh on the narrative, the animation work is an absolute joy once again from Pixar. The studio’s eye for details is second to none, and here too, it provides amazing visuals that are a treat to watch. The mannerisms captured of the young caveboy is the high-point of the film, making him lovable despite his outwardly appearance. The movie though has a rather dark tone, brought forth more by the darker color palette used, and it has a few scary moments (eating live animals!) that do not go well with a PG-rated movie.

The Good Dinosaur_T-Rex

Amongs the voices provided, Jeffrey Wright and Frances McDormand, as the dinosaur parents, bring out maturity, warmth and wisdom in the initial scenes of the movie. One other voice that stands out in the movie is that of Sam Elliott who is cast as an older T-Rex; his deep booming voice with the smoothness of a cowboy makes quite a mark in the narrative. I am not too convinced about casting Raymond Ochoa for Arlo, since the young actor’s soft voice feels a mismatch for a dinosaur even though I understand the studio wanted to show this creature to be soft. It still feels out of place. The young Mowgli-like boy only snarls. Steve Zahn makes for a creepy antagonist in some parts of the movie as the flying dinosaur pterodactyl. And yes, John Ratzenberger is there once more in a Pixar movie, voicing a Velociraptor called Earl, and doing a swell job at that!

The Good Dinosaur_Spot

The Good Dinosaur went through a tumultuous phase during production, and while it has its moments of art, it ain’t the final piece that Pixar is known for providing. With the animation industry being overcrowded, and the competition being on a different level altogether unlike 1995 when Toy Story was released, Pixar needs to inventing and re-inventing itself. With Inside Out it showed why it still is the best animation studio in business today, and let’s hope that it learns from the mistakes of The Good Dinosaur, and gets back to delivering the very best.

PS: The animated short film at the beginning titled Sanjay’s Super Team, directed by Sanjay Patel, is spectacular and an example of the kind of creativity Pixar encourages. Don’t be late to the theatres; the short film itself maybe worth the ticket!


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