THE GOOD DINOSAUR - film review By Mark Geraghty. December 26, 2015
THE GOOD DINOSAUR is the second new Pixar film to be released in 2015, but if viewers are expecting another INSIDE OUT, they’ll be disappointed. There’s not a shred of high concept thinking to be found in THE GOOD DINOSAUR; just a lot of recycled ideas that have been matched with some of the most gorgeous outdoors animation that’s ever been seen in a film of this genre. If ever there was a case to answer of form winning out over substance, THE GOOD DINOSAUR would have a pretty good shot at the trophy. Anyone who follows Pixar Studios release slate will know that THE GOOD DINOSAUR was one of those projects that ran completely off the rails. Long-standing Pixar team man Bob Petersen championed the idea into the production phase, but was moved off it when it became clear the film had stalled. Peter Sohn took over the project and, in the process, completely rewrote the story and replaced the cast. The scope of the change meant that Pixar went without a 2014 release, as Sohn put his crew to work to get the project on track.
Despite best efforts, THE GOOD DINOSAUR never finds its feet in the way audiences have come to expect from the world’s preeminent animation studio. The story is reminiscent of The Lion King, but lacks the strength of the relationship between father and son of that film. Instead, Henry (Jeffrey Wright), the father dinosaur, takes pity on his son Arlo (Raymond Ochoa), who is the runt of the litter and struggles to “make his mark” no matter what. Arlo’s subsequent misadventures feel like second-hand versions of previous, great Disney movies. His encounter with a group of particularly nasty Pterodactyls, voiced by Steve Zahn, Mandy Freund & Steven Clay Hunter, once again, feel as though they were lifted straight out of The Lion King but with voice performances not nearly as memorable as Whoopi Goldberg and Cheech Marin.
There’s also the question of how “age appropriate” THE GOOD DINOSAUR is for younger children. Pixar have never been shy about placing their characters in peril to create drama in their films, but the story has something of a mean streak that would surprise parents who take younger kids to see the film. Arlo is mercilessly goaded by his siblings Buck and Libby, the Peter Sohn voiced Forest Woodbush makes light of cognitive short-comings and even Henry goes out of his way to place Arlo in danger just to prove a point. Even Arlo himself is guilty of thoughtlessness when he prevents his human companion Spot (Jack Bright) from joining with an older human who calls to The young boy, opting instead to force him to continue on the dangerous journey back to the dinosaur’s home. Arlo’s actions bring into question whether in fact he is, in fact, a good dinosaur or just a scared kid who is unable to function without somebody else being always there to help him, whether it be his father or, later in the movie, Spot.
It’s so rare for Pixar to have a bad day at the office, but THE GOOD DINOSAUR is a victim of a tortured development and, without having any knowledge of that situation, the viewer will still sense that they have been told told this story many times before and with greater originality. Much of the story feels forced and it never finds a tone that allows for events to unfold organically, opting instead for a series of set-pieces that never meld together to create a flowing, continuous whole. It’s a great shame, as the Pixar animators have gone all out to imagine the landscape in which Arlo’s adventure takes place. Unfortunately, despite the film’s denouement, THE GOOD DINOSAUR never quite makes its mark.