Pixar’s long-delayed sixteenth film, The Good Dinosaur, opens today in most of the world. It’s a story you’ve seen many times in a variety of forms, but some stories are worth retelling and reimagining, and this is one of them.
It’s the coming-of-age tale of a callow youth who finds himself lost, alone and far from home, and has to overcome his fears and learn to survive in the wild. He befriends a wild animal, the two help each other, and they make their way home, the youth learning that he is stronger and more mature for his ordeal. Back in the 1960s, it was called My Side of the Mountain. Others in the genre include The Black Stallion, Free Willy, Never Cry Wolf, The Land Before Time and Homeward Bound, among many others. It’s a popular story and it’s well-told here.
1. What is it about?
65 million years ago, a meteor narrowly misses the Earth, with the result that the dinosaurs were not wiped out. Some millions of years later, the dinosaurs have evolved; a family of apatosaurs works their farm and prepares for winter. When they find that a wild animal is stealing their crops, Poppa orders his clumsy and timid son Arlo to catch it. When it escapes, Poppa and Arlo pursue it, and Poppa is killed and Arlo swept away in a flash flood. Arlo has to make his way back home with the help of the wild animal, a feral human that he names Spot.
2. Will I like it?
It’s very well done, the cast is uniformly good, and the story is exciting. There’s a lot of comedy, action, adventure and some beautiful sequences that are there just to be beautiful. Spot is often hilarious, and the family of cowboy tyrannosaurs are wonderful.
4. When is a good time for a bathroom break?
The movie’s only an hour and 42 minutes long, so you may not need one. If the kids need to go, there are two good times. The first is about 45 minutes in, after Arlo meets the hermit dinosaur with all the pets, there’s a few minutes of an exciting action scene that doesn’t affect the plot. The second is about 20 minutes later, after Butch the tyrannosaur says “come on, we gotta drive this herd outta here.”
5. Is the rating appropriate?
Very much so. “Parental Guidance” is what’s called for here. As always, you know your children better than we do; if your child is sensitive or easily frightened, they should probably wait a few years to see this one. The Good Dinosaur is very good, but it’s pretty intense for very young viewers. Not only does Poppa die in a scene very reminiscent of Mufasa’s demise in the Lion King, but we get to see it a second time in a stark and hard-edged nightmare flashback. Spot, as a feral hominid, is casually brutal, and several of his actions are cringeworthy. Arlo finds himself in dire peril on several occasions, facing predatory carnivores including a wicked-looking cobra-lizard creature, and dangling off the side of sheer cliff faces.
6. How’s the animation?
Spectacular. Pixar has now reached the point that they can create a photorealistic world with amazing weather and lighting. Now they are applying a level of artistry that isn’t often seen in animation outside of the works of Miyazaki. The characters, while more stylized and more traditionally cartoonish, are expressive and engaging.
7. How’s the voice cast?
Very solid. Jeffrey Wright (Beetee in the Hunger Games series, Felix Leiter in the Bond movies) plays Poppa as a dependable and patient father who believes in his son when he doesn’t believe in himself; Frances McDormand is not given enough to do as Momma, but brings her warm presence anyway. 14-year-old Raymond Ochoa carries the film, spending most of the story acting opposite a snarling and growling but otherwise mute little caveman. The big name stars are Sam Elliott, Anna Paquin and A.J. Buckley as the aforementioned T-Rexes, and they provide a great little interlude and some scary action involving a nasty band of scavengers. John Ratzenberger shows up in the scene; he’s one of the raptors trying to rustle the T-Rexes’ bisons.
8. Do I need to stay to the end of the credits?
No, there’s nothing after the credits.
9. Is the 3D worth it?
The screening I attended was not in 3D, but I could see where the effect would be amazing throughout the film. The scenes where Arlo and Spot climb the mountains would obviously be dizzying, and the grandeur of the primeval Badlands of what would someday be Wyoming should be spectacular. I hope to see it again, this time in 3D.
10. How’s the short that goes with it?
Sanjay’s Super-Team is a really good little film, inspired by director Sanjay Patel’s childhood conflict with his father, and based on his Hindu-inspired artwork. Young Sanjay wants to watch his favorite super-hero cartoons, but his father wants to meditate and wants Sanjay to join him. The story involves a fantastic battle between a demon and the gods Vishnu, Durga and Hanuman. There are three distinct art styles in the movie; the usual Pixar cartoon style for Sanjay, his father and their home, the starkly angular graphics of the Super Team show, and a boldly dynamic and stylized look for the deities.