Oh Pixar, you were doing so well. Inside Out was my favourite film of 2015; it was clever, imaginative, colourful and beautifully thought-provoking. Most importantly, it was very original and took animation into a new and exciting direction. It was only months later that Pixar released its next feature: The Good Dinosaur, a film that is so confused and uninspired that it is totally unsurprising to discover that it went through production hell.
A real shame considering that this had the potential to be much more interesting than the actual finished product. It explores the question of what it would be like if dinosaurs and humans evolved together; in a history that is alternate to ours, the asteroid that wiped out dinosaurs 65 million years ago misses planet Earth. Dinosaurs exist peacefully, and the story follows farmer dinosaurs Henry (Jeffrey Wright) and Ida (Frances McDormand). Already, there are issues and plotholes. The dinosaurs do not have opposable thumbs and must use their heads to farm, pretty much limiting what they’re capable of. I also noticed ropes lying around and it got me wondering how those ropes came to be in this world without intelligent human life; the dinosaurs certainly couldn’t create them. Eventually, it got to a point where I just stopped thinking about all of the things that don’t make sense because the film is full of things like that.
Five writers came together to conjure up this story and it really, really shows. Like Brave, the film simply does not know what it wants to be. There are elements of The Lion King and The Jungle Book thrown in here, adding heavy moments of drama. Fair enough. But there are others scenes where The Good Dinosaur is cutesy to an almost unbearable degree. The cartoon character design for the main dinosaur, Arlo (Raymond Ochoa), is so offputting when you place him against these gorgeous, authentic backgrounds. If you are an admirer of animation, the film may be worth checking out just for the backgrounds alone; the landscapes are absolutely stunning. There’s clearly a lot of talent in the animation department here, and the character design wouldn’t necessarily be bad in another environment, but Arlo’s wide-eyed, lizard-like character design is so out of place that it makes it even trickier to connect to his already generic character. I don’t know whose creative decision it was to try to force these two highly opposing forces together, but it was the wrong choice.
The plot is basically every “boy and his dog” story you’ve ever seen. Arlo is the youngest of three children, and he is the only one who is very clumsy and scared of pretty much everything. After a series of unfortunate events, Arlo finds himself whisked away from his family and forced to care for a caveman-like child whom he decides to call Spot. Following this encounter, everything you expect to happen occurs; Arlo dislikes the human child initially and sees him as a threat, but he soon learns to trust him and they create a valuable friendship together. As Arlo tries to find his way home, he and Spot encounter a number of obstacles; some creatures threaten their livelihood while others prove to be useful to them. However, what they all have in common is that they’re incredibly unmemorable and I started to forget about them as soon as they left the screen. Everything with The Good Dinosaur seems to go through one ear and out of the other, and what makes it worse is that it is not focused or well-written enough to provide a satisfying conclusion at the end.
During its opening weekend, there were stories of children kicking their seats out of boredom in certain cinema screens and it sadly isn’t shocking whatsoever. It’s not original or daring enough to appeal to adults and it’s not funny or charming enough to appeal to kids. I already mentioned the undeniable tone problem this film has; the issue with The Good Dinosaur is not that it contains dark and upsetting moments of drama, but it also includes supposed moments of comedy that do not fit the mood of the rest of the movie at all. For example, not long after an intense emotional scene for Arlo, there is a jarring montage of he and Spot doing really dark and messed up things that is clearly played for laughs within the context of the film, including decapitating a bug and being shown its insides (nope, I am not making this up) and a scene where the duo trip on hallucinogenic fruit. Beheadings of helpless creatures and drug references are just what you want in a mature and hilarious family-friendly film.
With all of that said, the animation – despite the highly distracting character designs of certain dinosaurs – is gorgeous. Just take a look at the image above this review and admire how realistic and beautiful those backgrounds are. To also be fair to the film, there are a few moments between Arlo and Spot that are heartwarming, especially towards the end. I even really like the fact that Spot can’t speak properly, as it birthed the potential to include some intelligent moments of silent cinema. However, The Good Dinosaur really would’ve benefitted from a few more rewrites to make these characters more fascinating and unique.
When it comes down to it, the main problem with Pixar’s sixteenth animated feature is that it’s dull and doesn’t take any risks. The whole product plays it way too safe, something that you cannot accuse most Pixar films of. There are definitely fans of it out there, but I won’t be joining them any time soon. Even the title – The Good Dinosaur – does not make sense; there are plenty of morally good dinosaurs in this world and there is nothing about Arlo as a character that makes him stand out. He’s just a typically nice but boring protagonist. I suppose the title is fitting since the story is equally as nonsensical. It’s not quite as bad as Cars 2 (at least you can actually see some potential in this idea) but it was only a hair more entertaining than Pixar’s 2011 disaster.
Rating system out of 5 stars