The Good Dinosaur is the newest visually breathtaking film from Disney-Pixar, but its story and main conflict do little to support the beautiful backdrop against which it takes place. (GEP 4/5)
Review by Contributing Editor Georgiana E. Presecky
The titular good dinosaur is “Arlo,” (voiced by Raymond Ochoa) the clumsy runt of the litter who feels pressure to win his family’s approval. His journey is relatable in the beginning – he is quite literally small and afraid, which is an understandable feeling for viewers of any age. When he loses his father and gets washed away in a storm, he must find his way back to his family farm. This is the film’s central conflict, and the feeling of being literally and figuratively “lost” is hammered home repeatedly throughout its hour and 40 minutes.
Arlo feels frightened and alone until he meets “Spot,” a mute cave-boy who has lost his parents and has to scavenge for food. Screenwriter Meg LeFauve’s ability to tell Spot’s story without using words was a highlight of The Good Dinosaur and his unlikely bond with Arlo is what ultimately makes both of their long journeys feel worth it.
At times, the film feels like vintage Pixar, thanks to sweet messages about home and friendship, memorable lines like “if you find the river, you’ll find your way home” and, of course, stunning animation that makes you want to reach out and touch the screen.
But aside from these company staples – of which I have an even greater appreciation after reading Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull’s book, Creativity Inc. – the movie almost felt almost too heavy. Arlo’s journey is an admirable one, but watching him get beaten down and cast aside so many times just felt more painful than inspiring. The movie will unfairly – but undoubtedly – draw comparisons to previous Pixar gems like Toy Story, Finding Nemo and Inside Out. While those films also follow heroes who set out on challenging quests, Woody, Marlin and Joy were characterized by hope and backed by friendship. While Arlo and Spot do form an unlikely bond in The Good Dinosaur, their story feels more heartbreaking than hopeful, more painful than cathartic.
© Georgiana E. Presecky FF2 Media (11/26/15)
Director Peter Sohn and a team of writers tell the story of a young dinosaur on a long, strenuous journey home. A diluted mixture of The Lion King and Finding Nemo, Disney-Pixar’s latest effort thrives more in its spectacular animation than the story of young “Arlo” (voiced by Raymond Ochoa). (BKP: 3.5/5)
Review by Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky
Arlo is the runt of his dinosaur family. His papa and mama run a successful family farm while encouraging their three dinosaur children to make their mark on the world (i.e. be brave, be tactful, be responsible). But Arlo always seems to fall short, never making his mark or living up to his father’s expectations. But on one fateful evening, a flash flood swoops in and kills Arlo’s papa.
Both Disney and Pixar have centered some of their highest-grossing films on relationships between fathers and sons – Mufasa and Simba (The Lion King), Marlin and Nemo (Finding Nemo) or pseudo-father-and-son Carl and Russell (Up). Each of those pairings had their own conflicts and difficulties, yet one element tied them together: love. Here, The Good Dinosaur tells us that Papa loves Arlo, but does not have enough screen time to actually show us. His death in the first act does not allow for viewers to make that connection to either Papa … or Arlo … as the young dinosaur is left to fend for himself and make his way back home to his mama, brother and sister.
Along Arlo’s tumultuous journey, he meets a young, Tarzan-like boy “Spot” (who, in my opinion, bares a striking resemblance to Zac Efron) and the two fight off nasty vultures, herds of buffalo and other random characters (Schizophrenic Triceratop, anyone?).
Arlo encounters mishap after mishap, some even too scary for the average young moviegoer. The emotional scale teeters heavily on the deep, dark and seemingly never-ending set of challenges rather than glimpses of hope and light.
Backdrops of glistening rivers and sun-kissed mountains make for a stunning visual experience, even through plastic frames of 3D glasses. Although the writers (including screenwriter Meg LeFauve) have good intentions, successfully filling viewers’ tear ducts that have been classically conditioned to respond to Disney-Pixar, the detailed animation is more impressive than the story itself.
© Brigid K. Presecky FF2 Media (11/26/15)
Photos: “Arlo” and “Spot” befriend each other on their journey home
Photo Credits: Disney Pixar
Q: Does The Good Dinosaur pass the Bechdel Test?
In the earliest days of animation, the Walt Disney Company used vertical multiplane cameras to mimic three-dimensions for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, layering up to seven layers of painted glass plates. Permanent backgrounds were placed at the bottom, next came the foregrounds, and then, finally, glass plates of the characters to shift in and out of scenes.
No matter how advanced technology has become, characters and story lines are just as important as they were in the 1930s. Imagining if The Good Dinosaur was made in a multiplane camera, it would have been better off keeping the backgrounds and foregrounds, and changing the characters out entirely.