Review: ‘The Good Dinosaur’ is Emotionally Satisfying
Pixar’s expert craftsmanship shines in “The Good Dinosaur.”
Pixar decided to give us a lovely gift this year, 2 movies during 2015. And both very good. To get one of the biggest questions out of the way now, no it is not as good as Inside Out. I personally don’t think I would put it with their best but it’s a darn good movie and still of that high quality we expect from the studio. The story is about a young apatosaurus named Arlo who in his family is the youngest, smallest, and scared of everything. He gets separated from his family while chasing this strange “critter.” At first hating it for getting him into this predicament, the two form a bond as they try to get back to Arlo’s home before winter begins. Along their journey he finds his bravery and inner strength while protecting his new critter friend, a caveboy named Spot.
Cinematics (Plot, Acting, Cinematography, etc.) – 4.5
This film seems like a great example of a quote from Roger Ebert, “It’s not what a movie is about, it’s how it is about it.” As you may have noticed above, it’s not exactly the most original idea for a film. The plot is the only thing I can criticize. I realize I normally end with my problems but this time I figure I’d start off with it. We’ve seen this plot in a film many times before. You can even tell which lines will be repeated later in different context to show a change occurring in the characters. For certain type of viewers this may be a deal breaker but for me everything else balances it out.
The voice acting is strong from everyone and nicely downplayed in the marketing for this. The main actor, Raymond Ochoa, is especially good for his age and the fact that he really has to carry the film since it can be rather episodic with characters coming and going. Still everyone feels like a fully developed character even if they’re only in the film for a fraction of the time. Sam Elliot is perfectly cast as an older, gruff, wise T-rex. His daughter is voiced by the always delightful Anna Paquin. In fact I didn’t realize it was her until I read the credits. She does a great job hiding her voice. Frances McDormand, as Arlo’s mother, may not have a lot of lines but man can she deliver all of them perfectly and bring a tear to your eye with the slightest nuances. Since this is a Pixar film John Ratzenberger (Cliff from “Cheers”) does make a cameo but man even if you had a gun to my head I couldn’t of told you where until I looked it up later. I’ll let you see if you can spot him.
The visuals of this film might be some of Pixar’s best work. I was reminded of the making of “Finding Nemo.” They said they had to pull back on the backgrounds as their original animation looked too realistic, like they filmed underwater and then added animated fish. Here the backgrounds look completely photo-real. Even the dinosaurs for as cartoonish as their bodies are shaped, they still look like there’s living flesh and blood underneath the skin. Somehow they manage to keep it from being distracting (which was their main concern for “Finding Nemo”) and I’m not sure how they did it here. The story clearly takes place somewhere in Utah as we see Monument Valley (where they filmed the famous John Ford/John Wayne westerns) during the beginning. That’s an interesting thing about the film, the marketing has been down playing this is a western. The T-rexes are cowboys on a cattle drive, raptors are rustlers, etc. This is a western for kids… with dinosaurs. Your mileage may vary but for me, that’s awesome!
Entertainment Value – 4
This is always a frustrating experience, there aren’t real major complaints with the film. However you still know it’s not a perfect 5 out of 5 for some reason. I personally think it comes down to how does this film grab me? There was just some level of engagement that the movie never achieves. Could it be the hype I built up for myself from that great teaser? It’s possible. But for a story it’s… I don’t know, it’s missing some sort of… spark. However there a number of great moments I loved like Arlo explaining to Spot what a family is and what has become to both of theirs. There’s also a very good dream sequence that is a little reminiscent of “The Lion King” but goes in a different direction that’s interesting.
I’d also like to just quickly touch on the score by Mychael and Jeff Danna, a brother team of composers. I didn’t recognize the name but they both have worked on some A-list stuff. Sometimes together and sometimes on their own. Either way their music in the film is one of the best parts. I’ll be looking for the soundtrack ASAP. It’s subtle without becoming a wallpaper score but so haunting many times. Majority of the time when this movie does work emotionally, you can bet the score is a big reason.
Rewatchability – 5
I definitely plan on watching this again. I remember a number of recent Pixar and family films have had a bigger impact on me the longer I thought on them. And after all I have my younger sisters coming into town soon and need to come up with something to do with them. I can’t say it’s a bad prospect.
The story may be simple and done before but Pixar shows why it's the king with how it tells its story. The beginning is a little sluggish but once it gets going it is quite enjoyable. Kids will like the dinosaurs and the adults will probably appreciate it's understated quality. Though it never quite feels as emotionally satisfying as the other Pixar greats, its expert craftsmanship makes you realize it doesn't need to. I give it 4.5 stars out of 5.