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Review: ‘The Good Dinosaur’

A mismatched couple traverse a succession of breathtaking, naturalistic environments on their journey home.

Pictured (L-R): Arlo, Forrest Woodbush (aka: The Pet Collector). ©2015 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

Thanks to a power failure in New York City’s splendid subway system I arrived 15 minutes late to The Good Dinosaur screening I’d been invited to.  By the time I sat down Sanjay’s Super Team, Pixar’s latest pre-feature short had gone by, along with the first few minutes of Dinosaur.

Walking in cold immediately left me with two questions: 1) Why does that dinosaur have oversized, saucer-shaped feet at the bottom of his legs (as it turns out, because it visually underlines a story moment later in the film), and 2), who knotted the vines around the basket one of the dinosaurs is dragging? I didn’t see any thumbs on those saucer-shaped feet.

Well, one does not go to an animated feature expecting a scientifically accurate paleontology lecture, so just roll with it. (At least they came up with a reason why human co-exist with dinosaurs who in reality went extinct millions of years before people showed up: that dino-destroying meteor came thisclose but missed hitting Earth; take that, Flintstones!)

The Good Dinosaur is Arlo,* a young, frightened Apatosaurus, struggling to prove himself—and survive—as he tries to find his way home in his peril-filled prehistoric world. In a time-tested cinematic trope—the mismatched couple who start out as antagonists but evolve into inseparable friends, “Spot,” the feral human child responsible for Arlo’s predicament becomes the dinosaur’s pet, protector and travelling companion. Pixar has given the pair a succession of breathtaking, naturalistic environments to traverse on their journey: craggy mountain peaks, raging rivers, wind-rippled grassy fields, steaming fumaroles—all photo-realistic, all computer-created. (You’d swear the backlit, rain-dappled leaves were the real thing, but nope, they’re just a binary bunch of ones and zeroes.) The whole thing looks so gosh-darned real (except for the prehistoric critters of course) The Good Dinosaur could be a Disneynature release

The film is filled with a menagerie of adorable, button-eyed prehistoric fauna (several of whom are consumed whole by not so adorable predators) and great big dinosaurs. My personal favorite: “Forrest Woodbush,” a soft-spoken (by director Peter Sohn) Zen Styracosaurus. Forrest sports a variety of meek looking but fiercely named critters perched on his horns who he claims protect him from various dangers, including the one that “protects me from unrealistic goals.” (I could use one of those.)

Arlo and Spot meet up with various allies and antagonists in their journey, all imbued with distinctive personalities, humanly expressive body language and, in what might be a side effect of Disney acquiring Marvel comics, interesting names: the pterodactyl pteam of Thunderclap, Downpour and Coldfront could be a trio of superheroes…or villains.

The Good Dinosaur also boasts Disney/Pixar’s first overt psychedelic drug trip (as opposed to the trippy imagery suffusing so many of their classic features) when Arlo and Spot  hallucinate wildly after ingesting fermented fruit that might have come from the same tree as Homer Simpson’s Guatemalan Insanity Peppers.

The contrast between Inside Out’s claustrophobic big city setting (remember how small the rooms in the family’s San Francisco home seemed?) and The Good Dinosaur’s wide open spaces couldn’t be more pronounced—an interesting set of extremes for the two films released in the same year, a first for Pixar.

*Intentional or simply coincidence: is our hero dinosaur named “Arlo” because the film is premiering at Thanksgiving, the holiday setting of Arlo Guthrie’s famous anti-war song “Alice’s Restaurant”?                          

Joe Strike's picture

Joe Strike has written about animation for numerous publications. He is the author of Furry Nation: The True Story of America's Most Misunderstood Subculture.