A young dinosaur is separated from his family and has to find his way home.
Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur has had a heck of a time getting to the big screen. It was first mooted back in 2009 with director Bob Peterson (Up) and set for a 2013 release. He left the project due to story issues, with Peter Sohn taking on the helm.
That 2013 release date slipped to 2014 and then late 2015, with story ideas shifting and changing. As recently as June 2015, most of the voice cast was replaced and characters were removed mere months before the premiere.
With these myriad issues there was a very real fear that The Good Dinosaur could be a disaster. Thankfully that’s not the case but the result still shows some frayed edges.
The Good Dinosaur is a very simple film about a kid who happens to be a gigantic lizard on a tough journey to get home and prove himself. And that’s pretty much it.
It’s a testament to the complexity of most Pixar films that this straightforward premise and presentation feels thin by comparison. There’s just not a lot going on with subplots and relatively little in the way of grown up humour asides that we’ve become used to.
Which isn’t to say that it’s a dull ride. Arlo’s journey is fraught with danger and when he teams up with a human boy the film manages to mine some emotions from the meagre plot. Even here, it’s brute-force sentimentalism, with the pair barely able to communicate and each lesson hammered home with all the subtlety of a species-killing asteroid. There’s comedy too, though it’s often just as blunt, with scenes feeling like sketches apart from the main film.
Arlo also has a very tough time throughout, with long moments spent watching his body getting battered by all manner of terrible weather and unfortunate events. His bruised hide is clearly meant to make us feel for the young dinosaur but the battering he takes starts to feel redundant when he falls for the 37th time.
If the film isn’t a classic in story terms it’s certainly a technical marvel. I’ve never seen CG water this good on screen and Pixar makes sure to show it off. The stylised dinos work in great contrast to the almost photo-real backgrounds though I sometimes got the feeling that I was watching a tech demo rather than a film. Maybe the narrative issues gave the engineers time to test their limits with refracted water droplets and volumetric clouds?
The Good Dinosaur is a perfectly decent animated film, aimed more at young folk who don’t mind a constant sense of danger. But it lacks the refinement of the best Pixar tales and mistakes peril for pathos in a run of gruelling scenes. Sam Eliot makes for a cool Tyrannosaur anyway.