Pixar's fall from grace began in 2011 when Cars 2 was released and was bashed by critics and Pixar fans alike for seeming like an unimaginative sequel designed to sell toys. 2012's Brave was also a departure from the type of films the world expected from Pixar and 2013's Monsters University continued what many perceived to be a downward spiral for the once critically acclaimed studio. 2014's The Good Dinosaur didn't seem to have much going for it either... and then it was delayed.
Earlier this year, fans were quick to call Inside Out a "return to form" for Pixar, an original, funny, touching film that played with your emotions, literally. It caused many to look ahead towards The Good Dinosaur with hope and optimism. On November 25th, you can decide for yourself if this film is as good as its title suggests, but I personally found that not to be the case.
The old American West meets the Jurassic period in The Good Dinosaur when a young Apatosaurus named Arlo finds it hard to live up to his family's accomplishments. A series of unfortunate events lead to Arlo becoming lost far from home. To get back, he will have to rely on a young human named Spot to lead him through the wilderness on a journey of self discovery and bravery.
One of the inherent problems with The Good Dinosaur lies in the fact that this family film is really a classic Western in disguise. Indeed, Dinosaur has much more in common with John Wayne and John Ford than it does with Buzz and Woody. The photo realistic backgrounds are breathtakingly beautiful, juxtaposed against the overly stylized, cartoony dinosaurs. Despite their comedic appearance, the film offers very few lighthearted moments. Past the halfway point, there is little comedy to be found in this overly dramatic picture.
The Good Dinosaur features some heavy themes, not all of which are unheard of in classic family films. Death, fear, love, and courage can be found in many classic and widely embraced animated films, but The Good Dinosaur keeps dishing out heavy moments with fierce repetition and little reprieve. This emotional rollercoaster leaves you feeling numb and unsatisfied by the end.
The character that steals the show is Spot, the young caveman who acts more like a dog than a human. With his wild hair and loincloth, he looks like young Tarzan and acts like Old Yeller as he leads Arlo to food and sniffs their way out of, and into, danger. However, what could have been a cute, heartwarming character that saves the show ends up leading to more heartbreak for the main character and may even be used as an example by animal rights groups in defense of not domesticating dogs and cats. Again, heavy stuff for a family-friendly movie outing.
I had high hopes for The Good Dinosaur. As a Pixar fan, I want to see them succeed with every film they make. I was also excited for the directorial debut of Peter Sohn, a familiar face and name to any fan of Pixar's bonus features. However, this film completely misses its mark and the cartoony character models don't jive with the weight of the story. While it is a breathtaking adventure, it ultimately falls flat. If you take a bad Western film and cast the humans with dinosaurs, you get The Good Dinosaur, a pretty bad film.
I give The Good Dinosaur 2 out of 5 marks on a silo.