D: Peter Sohn. W: Meg LeFauve (with story credit to Peter Sohn, Bob Peterson, Erik Benson, Kelsey Mann). With the voice talents of: Jeffrey Wright/Frances McDormand/Raymond Ochoa/Steve Zahn/A.J. Buckley/Anna Paquin/Sam Elliot.
Delays pushed the release of the new Pixar film, The Good Dinosaur, making it the second release from Pixar in the same year. Bad for business, but also bad for the film as it cannot compete with the superior Inside Out.
Made in the same collaborative process that most of filmmaking relies on, but rarely celebrates, this Pixar squad boosts a lot of great work under their belt. However, the pitch for this film was probably stronger than its final product. The Good Dinosaur follows a family of farming Apatosauruses whose youngest son, Arlo, struggles to make his mark on the farm. The pitch would have included the charming idea of dinosaurs as farmers and ranchers with Southern accents and some amiable non-predator friendships. These episodes and moments cannot sustain a story that relies solely on its underdog.
The story hits on all the common Pixar beats: death of a parent, coming of age, separation from family leading to an adventure and reunion. I’m not spoiling anything here, but it is also why Inside Out is the better film. That being said these are the beats of the beloved Finding Nemo, so it is also what The Good Dinosaur doesn’t do as well that matters. The script is too direct and the dino family’s emphasis on proving oneself through physical chores seems archaic and demonstrative. The lack of other dinosaurs makes me yearn for the 1988 Universal gem, The Land Before Time, a superior children’s film on all accounts.
What does work is the visuals. The backgrounds around Arlo are breathtaking, with the water specifically memorable. Yet somehow little Arlo gets lost within this big gorgeous landscape and its only when he runs through a field with fireflies that we really soar with him emotionally. Arlo’s friendship with a little feral child he nicknames Spot pulls at the heartstrings for sure, but it’s simply not enough. The film feels safe and does not live up to the adult standards of Pixar. But who knows, the children in the theater were laughing, maybe that’s all that matters?