THE GOOD DINOSAUR Review
Director: Peter Sohn
Genre: Animation, Family
This is the story of a boy and his dog, except the dog is the boy and also a dinosaur. Leave it to Pixar to come up with the most bizarre twist on a genre possible. This unlikely film finally rose from years in development Hell to cautious audiences, many of whom were still crying over INSIDE OUT when they stepped into the theater. To say that any Pixar film isn’t “Pixar’s best” is a little unfair given the caliber of films the juggernaut of animation cranks out on a regular basis. What can be said is that THE GOOD DINOSAUR is a departure from the studio’s usual fare, both to its benefit and to its detriment.
By now, everyone knows the basic premise of THE GOOD DINOSAUR: the asteroid that hit the dinosaurs missed, so dinosaurs lived on into the time of humans. Pixar loves to market its films as vaguely as possible before their releases, leading in the past to many pleasant surprises (Bing Bong in INSIDE OUT, the roly-poly humans in WALL-E, and pretty much the entire plot of UP). The part Pixar left out this time is that dinosaurs are the dominant intelligent species on the planet, and the opening montage showcases protagonist Arlo’s magnificent apatosaurus family… planting and harvesting corn. On top of this, Arlo and his family sound and behave like farmers in the dust bowl with adorable southern accents and foreboding talk of the impending winter. To be fair, everyone knew this was going to be a bizarre movie from the get-go, but 4-H Dinosaur Edition is an interesting choice (to say the least) and never stops feeling weird.
Actual mood board for THE GOOD DINOSAUR
This isn’t the only aspect of THE GOOD DINOSAUR that takes some warming up to. Many have spoken on the unusual animation style, featuring photo-realistic backgrounds literally downloaded from Google Earth alongside extremely cartoony characters. After watching the film, this doesn’t not work, but it isn’t as successful stylistically as THE AMAZING WORLD OF GUMBALL. Perhaps this is the only feature film tonally bizarre enough to handle such a dissonant visual style, but it definitely works better in a short film or a fifteen-minute episode of a children’s cartoon.
On the plus side, DINOSAUR pulls exactly zero punches in terms of content. This figures perfectly in a film about a character overcoming his fears, so good on Pixar for making the film a little scary. Be prepared for the most graphic on-screen Disney parent death since Mufasa, heads of animals and insects being bitten off on-camera, a character saying they “can’t wait to kill” little Arlo and Spot, and a sequence where Arlo and Spot accidentally eat fermented fruit and enjoy drug-fueled hallucinations in an art style closer to Ren and Stimpy than one could ever expect to see in a Pixar movie. Despite its childish exterior and somewhat basic premise, this is certainly a film that treats its younger audience like adults. Good to see that Disney is still proudly carrying the torch for childhood trauma.
Imagine Flotsam and Jetsam, but with more implied incest
All of this sounds decidedly un-Pixar, but worry not. While this is not a film without weaknesses, it boasts the strongest sequences of visual storytelling Pixar has put out since WALL-E. In an introduction to the film, director Peter Sohn recalls having to translate films for his non-English-speaking mother as a child and announces his intent to create a film that anyone anywhere could enjoy. Simply put, he succeeded. The film’s most emotional moments are completely without dialogue, and boy do they pack a punch. (Without giving too much away, be ready to cry about sticks.) They stand out as scenes that would absolutely be played as conversations in another film, but were intentionally presented in a different way. Seeing how effectively these scenes are constructed is worth the price of admission alone.
Sorry boys, you’re still not going to win Best Animated Feature
To answer some obvious questions: is this better than INSIDE OUT? No. Are you going to miss out on a cultural phenomenon if you skip this movie while it’s in theaters? No. Is it worth watching? Absolutely, especially if you’re a fan of creative animation, storytelling, or Pixar in general. After a complete reboot with a new director, script, and look, it’s a miracle that this film turned out to be anything worth noting at all. If you’re prepared for a little something different or you’re burned out from the Oscar Season buildup of overwrought dramas, this is a nice little film to keep in your back pocket.