The Good Dinosaur
DIRECTOR: Peter Sohn
WRITER: Meg LeFavure
STORY: Peter Sohn, Erik Benson, Meg LeFavure, Kelsey Mann, Bob Peterson
CAST: Raymond Ochoa, Jack Bright, Sam Elliott, Anna Paquin, A.J. Buckley, Steve Zahn, Frances McDormand, Jeffrey Wright, Marcus Scribner
Walt Disney Studios | Pixar
Rated PG | 100 Minutes
Release Date: November 25, 2015
The story of a boy and his dog gets a new prehistoric spin in Disney and Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur. The story asks the age-old question, what would have happened if the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs had missed? Well, in the film, we learn that the dinosaurs become productive members of society that adapted to their natural surroundings. There lies one of the things that makes this film so beautiful. Even with its storied production problems the film has gone through, the studio has managed to rise above it all and give out something that is not only beautiful aesthetically, but emotionally as well.
Arlo, a skittish Apatosaurus with a big heart, is separated from his family. Scared and alone, our hero must find his way home before the cold winter comes. On his journey he comes across sights he has never seen before, and meets an unlikely companion who joins him on his course home – a human boy, whom he names Spot. Together, they learn that they have more in common with each other than they originally thought despite their difference in species, and together they find that they can have the courage to overcome any fear they will encounter on their journey home.
It’s scary to think that at one point this film could have been completely scrapped because former director Bob Peterson was unable to crack the third act. Not that he doesn’t have the talent to do so, but sometimes you need a new vision in order to get what you want out of the story. That’s where first-time director Peter Sohn comes in. Part voiceover actor in other Pixar films like Ratatouille and Monsters University, part animated shorts director, and part story artist, Sohn is well-versed in the world of Pixar.
Despite all of that, Sohn, screenwriter Meg LeFavure, and producer Denise Ream have weathered the nearly demoralizing experience. The Good Dinosaur is a beautiful film that tells the journey of a easily frightened Arlo who, after going through a traumatic event, must find the courage to standup to his fears. There is a sense that there was no one at Pixar that would let whatever production problems that has occurred during its five years stop them from making and releasing this film. And it shows. The beautiful landscape that draws inspiration from Jackson Hole, Wyoming; Montana, and Yellowstone National Park is a real sight to behold, and the photorealistic textures only enhance the film’s beauty. While the cinematography can be considered a character, the more animated dinosaurs and humans is a nice polarizing effect in a way that neither the landscape nor the characters overshadow each other.
The set up is that Arlo and his siblings are born at the same time. Though Arlo’s egg is the biggest, he is the smallest creature of all his siblings, setting a precedence that he will be the inferior one in the family. As time passes, this two siblings learn to leave their mark (footprint) on the family stone silo, where they store all their corn. To accomplish this, they had to perform a difficult task, but Arlo can’t even feed the chickens without running scared from the crazy looking one falls further behind. So Poppa (Jeffrey Wright) wants to give him some much needed inspiration to show that there is really nothing to fear, and gives him the confidence he needs to catch a critter that has been feeding on their stored corn.
Again, Arlo cannot accomplish this task due to his fear. Frustrated, Poppa pushes Arlo to catch and kill the critter one final time. However, Arlo is pushed beyond what he is capable of, and admits to Poppa that he is not like him at all. To which Poppa replies, “You are me, and more.” A truly touching sentiment for any parent or anyone else who knows what it is like to have a family like that.
But let’s not get too down on the fact that the film is about maturing and overcoming fears by way of going on a great journey. Yes, it has been done before, as has the story about a boy and his dog – only thing is the film pulls a switcharoo by having Arlo has the owner and Spot (the human) as a dog. Then there is the western genre aspect. Since there is a lack of dialogue in the film, much of how The Good Dinosaur connects with its audience is on an emotional level, relying on how it is able to communicate through the sweeping warming glow of the landscapes, the film’s western-eqsue score by Mychael Danna and Jeff Danna, action, and sounds you’d hear from a “Sounds of Nature” CD.
For what it is worth, The Good Dinosaur‘s early production problems may have had somewhat of an effect on the quality of the film. It was a demoralizing turn of events. But for Pixar to stay committed to this story during those difficult times, shows that they can persevere. That sort of commitment should be really admired. They could have just put The Good Dinosaur on the shelf, but they stuck to what they had. Peter Sohn and Denise Ream should be commended for being able to revamp the story. At times, the tale may be a bit clunky, and some of the scenes may be a bit too dramatic for younger audiences, but The Good Dinosaur‘s heart is in the right place, and can be consider one of the top 10 Pixar films to date.