Sign up for our weekly newsletter

5 Years Later: The Good Dinosaur

27 November 20 words: Adam Ridgley

Has time been kind to Pixar’s often forgotten Jurassic feature?

Director: Peter Sohn
Starring: Raymond Ochoa, Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand
Running time: 93 mins

Sometimes we often forget how we take Pixar for granted. For over a decade, the studio produced back-to-back iconic features that have made a true mark on cinematic history, with its only true mediocre outings being the ones with “Cars” in the title. The best films always took an initial idea that was bound in obscurity, and elaborated upon them with imaginative storytelling, that remained grounded in well-developed characters and perfectly timed emotional beats. The main issue with The Good Dinosaur is whilst its initial concept is intriguing, Pixar never truly seems to know how to evolve the story. 

The core idea of the film is interesting. What if the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago had simply missed? The film jumps ahead a few million years where we see dinosaurs still around as the dominant and intelligent species, who have developed basic society. We follow a family of Apatosaurus tending to their farm. The story follows the journey of Arlo (voiced by Raymond Ochoa), the runt of his litter after a series of unfortunate events sees him stranded miles from home and forced to partner with a feral human child (Jack Bright). The boy not only acts like a wolf but responds to the name spot. While the two cannot communicate, they must co-operate to navigate the dangers on their journey upstream.

Meg LeFauve’s screenplay offers some interesting ideas, with the flipped boy and his dog dynamic being inverted to make the boy the dog being an interesting narrative. Throughout the story we see a genuine and heart-warming bond form between the two as Arlo grows and navigates his insecurities on his journey. Unfortunately, Arlo’s is certainly a boring little dinosaur journey and much of his journey feels formulaic and a surprisingly uncharacteristically unoriginal direction to take the story, given Pixar’s history. 

The best thing you can say about the movie is that it is a technical marvel, which remains a benchmark of animated achievement to this day. The photo realistic backgrounds are stunningly shot by director Peter Sohn, which captures immersive visual detail in every scene. One standout inspired scene in which Arlo and Spot consume some hallucinogenic fruit is particularly inspired.

Despite its gorgeous direction and well rendered scenery, the movie is lacking that signature element that makes for a truly great Pixar movie

However, the beauty of the landscape does wear off after Arlo’s third or forth dramatic emotional running montage. While the jungle is stunning, there is not a lot else to view or see. There is an overriding sense throughout the film that you are expecting to explore something deeper in this world, however we don’t get the world building set up by the film's premise outside of the few unmemorable characters Arlo briefly encounters on his journey. I suppose the snake with legs leads to a standout moment.

Whilst the film is undeniably beautiful, the same unfortunately cannot be said for its character design. Arlo is perhaps Pixar’s least memorable protagonist, in terms of personality and appearance. His cartoonish appearance doesn’t blend well with the scenery, he wouldn’t look out of place as an own-brand cereal mascot. 

No other name in animation has earned the expected level of quality of Pixar, therefore it can be hard to look at the studio’s movies with the same standards that we hold for others. Objectively, The Good Dinosaur is a decent movie that will satisfy younger audiences, but ultimately this is probably Pixar’s most disappointing movie. Despite its gorgeous direction and well rendered scenery, the movie is lacking that signature element that makes for a truly great Pixar movie and fails to live up to the promise of its premise. 

Did you know? The Good Dinosaur marked the first time Pixar had released two films in one year, following the release of Inside Out in June.

We have a favour to ask…

LeftLion is Nottingham’s meeting point for information about what’s going on in our city, from the established organisations to the grassroots. We want to keep what we do free to all to access, but increasingly we are relying on revenue from our readers to continue. Can you spare a few quid each month to support us?

Support LeftLion now