What would happen if, 65 million years ago, the meteor that killed the dinosaurs missed the earth, leaving the behemoths alive to thrive? The new Pixar-child-in-peril movie “The Good Dinosaur” suggests the apatosauruses would have created a modern stone age world for themselves where they speak, work and live in huts but most of all try to make a mark on the world.
At the beginning of the movie Arlo (Raymond Ochoa) is the runt of the litter. His older brother and sister (Marcus Scribner and Maleah Padilla) are bigger, more accomplished and unlike his siblings the knobby-kneed Arlo is a bit of a fraidy-cat. When his father (Jeffrey Wright) (SPOILER ALERT!) is killed Arlo is left stranded far from home and must learn to survive. He’s alone except for a feral boy (Jack Bright) who starts off as a thorn in Arlo’s side but quickly becomes a trusted friend who helps the young dino overcome his fears and make his mark.
“The Good Dinosaur” takes place before the invention of the wheel, which perhaps explains why Pixar did not reinvent the wheel here story wise. It’s all about learning valuable lie lessons, dealing with loss and the power of friendship, all well-worn Disney themes.
What is different, and exciting, is the execution. Pixar paints a beautiful portrait of the prehistoric world, complete with interesting character design—imagine a cobra with legs—and stunning landscapes. It’s easily the most eye-catching of Pixar’s films, creating a whole world for Arlo and his family to exist in.
As predictable as the story may be, “The Good Dinosaur” does shake it up with several surreal sidebars. Much of the film takes the form of a road trip as the duo make their way back to Arlo’s home. Along the way they meet an anxious rhino who gathers a menagerie of animals to shield him from danger, the elements and even his “unrealistic goals,” and later eat rotting fruit that triggers what must be the most hallucinogenic episode ever in a kid’s film. These idylls are a nice distraction from the tried-and-true story but also allow the filmmakers to exercise another of the movie’s strengths. For much of the film Arlo and the boy are on screen alone, interacting in near silence and with a minimum of dialogue manage to portray complex emotions and thoughts.
“The Good Dinosaur” contains a few intense circle-of-life scenes that may be too much for youngsters but also milks as much emotion from its simple story as possible. In Pixar’s world dinosaurs can cry… and just might make you shed a tear as well.