The Good Dinosaur

Review by Adam Woodward @AWLies

Directed by

Pete Sohn

Starring

Frances McDormand Jack Bright Raymond Ochoa

Anticipation.

Pixar! Dinosaurs!

Enjoyment.

A strange film. The scenery is stunning, the story uninspired, but it’s guaranteed to give you the giggles.

In Retrospect.

Not in the studio’s top tier best but, visually speaking, The Good Dinosaur signals a major evolutionary step in computer animation.

This prehistoric psychedelic western is Pixar’s strangest and most spectacular work to date.

Don’t let that title fool you: The Good Dinosaur isn’t about the scaly monsters that stomped the earth 65 million years ago; it’s about Earth itself. Where Inside Out took us inside the human mind, Pixar’s 16th feature is a monument to Mother Nature, every photorealistic frame drinking in the awesome majesty of the film’s Pacific Northwest setting, from its dense forests and vast plains to its wild rivers and raging volcanoes.

Far from being a sanitised dinotopia, this is a living, breathing, hostile world in which all creatures great and small are bound by the immutable laws of nature. Indeed, nature is the chief antagonist in this outwardly conventional tale of a timid young Apatosaurus named Arlo (Raymond Ochoa), who embarks on an epic adventure after becoming separated from his family. The distractingly sumptuous cinematic vistas that backdrop Arlo’s episodic journey make Paradise Falls look about as appealing as taking a dip in a bubbling tar pit, but crucially, for all that many of the dinosaurs he encounters mean him harm, it’s the elements that pose the biggest threat to Arlo and his feral caveboy sidekick, Spot (Jack Bright).

In this alternate timeline of the universe, the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs missed, and man and beast have come to cohabit the planet in near perfect harmony – the twist being that while dinosaurs have acquired language and managed to cultivate the land through the use of crude tools, humans scavenge and scamper about on all fours. Early on, we witness Arlo’s parents teach him about the importance of making your mark, but despite constant encouragement from Poppa (Jeffrey Wright), it’s clear to all concerned that Arlo doesn’t have what it takes to survive in this perilous environment. When Arlo is suddenly forced to go it alone, his chances of returning safely home to the Clawed-Tooth Mountains look fatefully slim.

Just as life finds a way, so Arlo must face his fears. Yet it transpires that Arlo isn’t the only one who is both overawed and intimidated by his natural surroundings. The further Arlo ventures, the more apparent it becomes that the dinosaurs’ continued existence in this post-Cretaceous period is taking a psychological toll. It’s as if being locked in a state of suspended evolution has induced a wave of mass hysteria, giving the film’s middle act an unexpectedly surreal undertone. From a strung out Styracosaurus, aptly named Forrest Woodbush (voiced by director Peter Sohn), to a group of storm-chasing Pterodactylus, which instantly call to mind a quasi-religious cult, each supporting character posits The Good Dinosaur as a freewheeling ode to the LSD-infused Disney animated features of yore.

By the time Sam Elliott shows up as a longhorn-herding, curiously masochistic T-Rex named Butch, the film has shifted firmly into John Ford country. What Pixar have served up here, then, is a prehistoric psychedelic western filled with the kind of offbeat larks you don’t expect to find in a contemporary kids’ movie. It’s a film of simple pleasures with an uncomplicated message – despite its ecological theme, there’s no urgent social commentary to chew over à la Wall-E, though the pair would certainly make for an interesting double bill – that invites us to gather around the campfire and then proceeds to slip a shot of concentrated peyote into our drink. Inevitably, the trip doesn’t last long, but for a brief glorious moment we’re reminded of the studio’s capacity for good clean subversive fun.

Published 20 Nov 2015

Anticipation.

Pixar! Dinosaurs!

Enjoyment.

A strange film. The scenery is stunning, the story uninspired, but it’s guaranteed to give you the giggles.

In Retrospect.

Not in the studio’s top tier best but, visually speaking, The Good Dinosaur signals a major evolutionary step in computer animation.

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