Movie review: The Good Dinosaur is a throwback, and not just in the evolutionary sense | Arts

Movie review: The Good Dinosaur is a throwback, and not just in the evolutionary sense

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The Good Dinosaur - PHOTO COURTESY OF DISNEY/PIXAR
  • photo courtesy of Disney/Pixar
  • The Good Dinosaur
The Good Dinosaur
★★★
Opening Wednesday


The publicity materials for Disney and Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur focus on the fact that it’s set in a world where an asteroid didn’t hit Earth and dinosaurs continued to evolve. What goes unmentioned is that the premise is an excuse for an old-fashioned children’s adventure story—a “boy and his dog” tale where the dog is the boy and the boy is a dinosaur.

Making the protagonists the more expected species would have resulted in something not unlike the adventurous coming-of-age tales that once populated children’s literature—and which were often adapted into Disney films and The Wonderful World of Disney Sunday movies. I mean stories such as Call It Courage, The Incredible Journey and even Old Yeller, though The Good Dinosaur, thankfully, does not require the hero to put down his pet cave-boy due to a case of rabies.

Set in an untouched American West with vistas that would make John Ford blush, The Good Dinosaur is a simple story of a dino homestead where a four-legged Apatosaurus family is apparently quite good at irrigation and growing corn despite a lack of opposable thumbs. Family runt Arlo (voiced by Raymond Ochoa) is terrified of everything and despairs of never “making his mark,” a point the film illustrates literally. An encounter with a loin-clothed “critter” (Jack Bright) leads to a tragedy, and then Arlo is swept downriver, where he discovers that the cave-boy he resents is a surprisingly loyal companion on the long, danger-filled trip home.

If this sounds familiar … well, it’s not unlike the plot to another animated dinosaur film, The Land Before Time, but this is much more explicitly a wilderness adventure, as Arlo and the cave-boy (named “Spot”) encounter familiar situations with getting food, natural disasters and even “rustlers.” No cowboy hats are seen, though Sam Elliott does show up as a T. Rex with some life lessons to share.

Like the Cars films, The Good Dinosaur seems aimed at a tradition-loving Middle American audience—one that misses the coming-of-age tales where a wimpy boy must face his fears when cut off from home and family. There’s a darkness to this story that contrasts with the soft, toy-like pastel dinosaurs; Arlo suffers about every physical and emotional trauma possible in a Disney flick, dead parent included.

Whether you like this film depends on your fondness for this type of story. It’s done well enough, with some breathtaking panoramas and a few tear-jerking scenes. But it’s all a little old-fashioned for Pixar, which has done its best work breathing fresh life into tired ideas. The Good Dinosaur doesn’t feel particularly innovative, or even interested in exploring the dinosaur-based society it’s created. But it’s interesting to see that old-fashioned children’s adventure stories aren’t, for lack of a better term, extinct.


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