After taking 2014 off, Pixar has generously doubled the offerings in 2015 for the first time in its history, releasing two films as opposed to the usual one. But while ‘Inside Out’ was a poignant and deep exploration of human emotion and the nature of change, ‘The Good Dinosaur’ doesn’t quite reach the standards of storytelling we’ve come to expect from the animation studio. With mix-matched pacing and hit-or-miss emotional beats, ‘Dinosaur’ doesn’t fall into the pit of utter ridiculousness and soullessness that ‘Cars 2’, Pixar’s worst effort to date, does but it does leave the adult portion of its audience confused as to why a film that should have been heartfelt and charming could leave such a mixed feeling.
It should be stated that the animation in ‘The Good Dinosaur’ is absolutely jaw-dropping. We expect as much from Pixar but this is something else, achieving a level of photorealism that makes every previous animated film ever look fake by comparison. If the animators had said they had used some live-action in the film, it would be difficult to deny it. But they didn’t, it’s just gorgeous animation.
‘The Good Dinosaur’ has a number of obvious inspirations but perhaps one of the least expected is that of the Western genre. This results in stunning cinematographic choices to complement the marvellous animation. A more appropriate title for the film would have been ‘The Beautiful Dinosaur’. And yes the creatures themselves seem a bit unrealistically caricatured compared to the landscape but I was never taken out of the film by it. Their designs fit their character.
But something’s wrong. I haven’t described the plot yet and here we come to the second major inspiration for ‘The Good Dinosaur’. The story takes a chunk of its lessons from Disney Classic, ‘The Lion King’. Like Simba, Arlo becomes separated from his family after certain tragedy. Like Simba, Arlo meets a few bizarre friends on his journey that teach him to challenge his fears. The biggest difference is whereas the villain of ‘Lion King’ was integral to Simba’s inner battle and the plot at large, the closest thing to a villain in ‘Good Dinosaur’ is a marginal character who is never actually very threatening nor makes a large impact on Arlo’s journey. The same could be said of the myriad of other supporting characters he meets. And there are some really random, annoying moments that feel completely misguided. The parts of the film that work are the setup and the conclusion, the middle journey itself is superfluous and much of it could be cut entirely without any impact to the central relationship at the heart of the story.
And here then is the film’s strength. The bond that develops between Arlo and human boy, Spot, is deep and affecting, with a couple of scenes in particular reminiscent of perfect Pixar. We genuinely share Arlo’s sense of responsibility for Spot and care for both characters which makes it all the more frustrating that the core physical journey doesn’t serve to propel their story more.
In summary, ‘The Good Dinosaur’ excels with its animation and the characterisation of its leads but falters with its story and the characterisation of the rest of its cast. ‘The Good Dinosaur’ lives up to its title as a ‘good’ film with plenty of strengths but its flaws prevent it from being ‘great’ as so many Pixar efforts are.
READ: Daniel’s Review