Emerging from a film making process as tortured as the one that plagued Ant-Man, The Good Dinosaur emerges this year to give Pixar it’s face most interesting challenge yet. Pixar itself.
The explanation behind that statement is that while the studio has never let the jettisoning of a director, or the ground-up reshaping of an entire story slow their roll before (Toy Story 2 & Ratatouille came from similar situations and turned out better for it) the real hurdle The Good Dinosaur REALLY has to overcome is how insanely transcendent Inside Out was.
You see, where the animated adventures of the emotions clambering around in your brainbox was a film crammed to bursting of original complex ideas, The Good Dinosaur takes a totally different turn and goes extraordinarily simple with it’s premise which becomes incredibly apparent the second you clock that this is actually a Western where the main characters are farming Aptosaurs whose give birth to three children. Where the first two are rambunctious and spirited, the third, Arlo, is a sensitive and timid child who eventually gets lost after a devastating flood and in an inverted Finding Nemo situation, has to find his way home again. Helping him is a feral human boy (dinosaurs can farm and humans are alive because the extinction level event 65 million years ago never happened before you ask) who in a neat twist, acts as Arlo’s loyal dog, Spot. So we basically have a boy and his dog story where the dog is a boy and the boy is a dinosaur. So far, so Pixar.
But is The Good Dinosaur any… well, y’know?
Taken on it’s own terms, yes. But again, Inside Out casts one Helluva shadow and some may find that in comparison The Good Dinosaur – which is also paced like a Western – plods along at a patient trot, which is a shame, because visually and emotionally, TGD packs a massive wallop. The gorgeous photo-real surroundings are breath-taking and would easily make Howard Hawks or Sergio Leone drop their jaws in awe as every leaf, every blade of grass, every drop of water is rendered to perfection, making this most definitely a cinema experience.
The emotional impact, without giving too much away, is more subtle but no less impressive. Watch Arlo and Spot comunicate without words what family and loss means to them just by using twigs and dirt. And near the end the whole moral of the story is totally and perfectly encapsulated by the single uttering of an incorrect name, which booted me square in the feels so hard, I’m still feeling it as I type this.
Now before I make this sound too heavy, I’d like to remind you that this IS a kids film and has funny moments (the paranoid Styracosaurus who collects animal totems on his horns for protection) and cool moments too. And it doesn’t come much cooler than Sam Elliot voicing a cowboy T-Rex fending off Velocaraptor cattle rustlers (watch how the little T-Rex arms draw up when they run to give the illusion that they are holding the reigns to a horse).
Yes, due to the deliberate pace and lack of obvious comedy, some kids will simply find this a little boring (believe it or not, I’ve actually heard people claim the same thing about Wall-E) and – not to be labour the point – it really does suffer in comparison to the burning brilliance of Inside Out’s genius, but honestly? The Good Dinosaur ultimately proves to be exactly that: Just Good.