The Good Dinosaur is the latest film to come out of the Disney-Pixar studios. The story begins in an alternate universe where Dinosaurs are fortunate enough to avoid being pulverized to extinction by an asteroid. Next we are introduced to an Apatosaurus family living at the base of Clawtooth Mountain. Benefiting from thousands of years of evolution, we learn that dinosaurs (the herbivores at least) are now capable of living an agrarian lifestyle, complete with tilled fields, cooped chickens and a grain silo.
The Mama (Frances McDormand) and Papa (Jeffrey Wright) of this family hatch themselves three little youngins, the smallest being Arlo (Raymond Ochoa). Arlo is a small and perpetually frightened child, constantly discouraged by his shortcomings. His loving Papa puts him up to the task of catching the “critter” that has been stealing their harvest storage.
The story is set in motion when Arlo successfully catches this critter and it turns out to be a small boy. During the struggle, both inadvertently fall into a nearby rapid filled river. Knocked unconscious, Arlo is swept very far from home. On his quest to return to his family, he befriends this wild boy and they embark on an adventure that changes them forever.
The animation, of course, is stunning. The depictions of these vast and gorgeous landscapes are enough to make anyone #OptOutside this Thanksgiving weekend. However, the near hyper realism of the setting provides a very stark contrast to the cartoonish illustration of Arlo. It was difficult for me to accept the combination of the two but the film has so many excellent things going for it that it’s easy to overlook.
My favorite thing that separates The Good Dinosaur from other children’s dino flicks (Dinosaur, The Land Before Time) is it’s increasingly western vibe that permeates the story. Sam Elliot voices a fearsome T-rex named Butch (a fun reference to one of Sam Elliot’s first roles as “card player#2” in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid). His wisdom and campfire tales really solidify this western feel. I know a cartoon/dinosaur/western sounds bizzare, but trust me. This narrative choice is extremely effective and gives this otherwise cute film a soul.
I think it’s important to note that these protagonists face some legitimate peril. While other Pixar films seem to season their dangerous scenes with some comic relief (a la “Escapay”), The Good Dinosaur rarely does. I frequently turned to my +1 to express my deep (and occasionally expletive laden) concern for this dinosaur and his pet child. It’s possible that kids might not be as receptive the gravity of these situations. However, smaller children will most likely be scared.
For those adults who are a little hesitant about seeing another Pixar film after being ruthlessly forced by Inside Out to cry an emotional “uncle”, fear not. This one isn’t as heavy but it’s still delivers a fantastic story. The Good Dinosaur is full of humor, emotion, and adventure but it won’t leave you wrecked and weeping.