The Good Dinosaur

Posted by Joel Copling on November 25, 2015

For better and for worse, "The Good Dinosaur" is indebted to the simple pleasures of animated movies from yesteryear. There is something almost elemental to it that traps the movie in a frustrating place between being unique and spinning its wheels. The talented artists of Pixar Animation are behind this effort (their second in a year that brought their best and most important work, "Inside Out"), and so it is of course a visual landmark, the detailing of landscapes and design of the titular, extinct beings singularly exciting in their achievements. But Meg LeFauve's screenplay unfortunately too much on such simple pleasures, because here is a movie with little sense of narrative thrust.

It's a shame, too, as the film's best segments are the ones that bookend it, imparting positive messages about the universality of grief and the importance of family and doing so through a unique reversal on a common trope among family-oriented movies. That is because the boy and his dog here are actually a dinosaur and, well, a boy. The setting is an alternate version of the past in which the asteroid that destroyed the dinosaurs instead passed right by Earth, causing man to inhabit it with the other dominant species of the planet. The dinosaur is an Apatosaurus named Arlo (voiced by Raymond Ochoa), whose family (Jeffrey Wright and Frances McDormand voice his parents) are farmers approaching the first snow, before which they must finish the current harvest.

Dad dies in a freak flooding accident after Spot (voiced in grunts and murmurs by Jack Bright), the boy, distracts Arlo from his duty of protecting their only food for winter. Weeks later, Spot reappears in their midst. Arlo gives chase and ends up separated from his home and family with no idea how to get back. He and Spot bond over similar tragedies (There is a touching scene involving twigs that represent the families they have and have lost), and the initial begrudging chemistry between these two unlikely underdogs against nature is affecting, but a majority of the sluggish second act is taken up with stretches of uninvolving subplots.

There is a run-in with a trio of friendly Tyrannosaurus rex (voices of A.J. Buckley, Sam Elliott, and Anna Paquin) who are buffalo herders headed in the general direction in which Arlo and Spot need to travel, but the trio is merely a device used by LeFauve and director Peter Sohn to get our protagonists where they need to go. A gaggle of Pteradons is introduced to force a bit of external conflict on the proceedings. What rings true is Arlo's connection to the spirit of his father, who appears, Mustafa-style, as an apparition to nudge Arlo in the right direction. It means that "The Good Dinosaur" has its heart in the right place; its sense of focus has a major attention deficit, though.

Film Information

Featuring the voices of Raymond Ochoa (Arlo), Jeffrey Wright (Poppa), Frances McDormand (Momma), Jack Bright (Spot), A.J. Buckley (Nash), Steve Zahn (Thunderclap), Anna Paquin (Ramsey), Sam Elliott (Butch), and Marcus Scribner (Buck).

Directed by Peter Sohn and written by Meg LeFauve.

Rated PG (peril, action, thematic elements).

100 minutes.

Released on November 25, 2015.