"The Good Dinosaur" might be the most streamlined story ever told by the wizards at Pixar.
A timid dinosaur gets separated from his family and must survive in a cruel, evolving landscape. The dialogue is reduced to the bare essentials, and much of the humor stems from a wink, a stare or a modest shrug.
Throw in a few A-list voice actors, and it’s more than enough for your average animated film. Pixar rarely settles for mediocrity, even if the studio has fallen for the siren song of sequels.
“The Good Dinosaur” challenges viewers of all ages, both with its chilling look at staying alive and what it means to be a family. It’s hardly perfect, but at times it engages us in ways the studio’s smash “Inside Out” couldn’t.
A sudden, violent storm separates Arlo from his clan in the grand Disney tradition. Now, this quiet little fella is all on his own. Until, that is, he meets a feral child he nicknames Spot (Jack Bright). Lil’ Spot is a firecracker, but the two clearly need each other since they’re both alone in the world.
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“The Good Dinosaur” falls back on classic (i.e. moldy) tropes the way the Coen brothers need kidnappings to set their stories in motion. Do we need another kids’ movie where a youngster loses a parent in the first act? Isn’t there a “Bambi” rule in effect? And seeing Arlo discover his inner strength is both valuable and shopworn.
Arlo’s adventure is more than a coming of age yarn. It’s a knotty circle of life, a grittier version than Simba could imagine. Our “Good” protagonist runs into some pretty vile creatures, and even those who rush to his aid have sinister tales to tell.
DID YOU KNOW: The T-Rex clan featured in ‘The Good Dinosaur’ drew its inspiration primarily from a real-life family in the Pacific Northwest crew members met while researching the movie.
Take Butch, a T-Rex voiced by the peerless Sam Elliott. He’s fearsome but eager to protect his fellow dinos, but his harrowing campfire yarns aren’t for the squeamish. This must be the first Pixar movie where a character talks about someone drowning in blood.
Film critics should have a keyboard shortcut extolling the visuals produced by Pixar. That mechanical praise doesn’t do this “Dinosaur” justice. The vistas crafted by the studio’s animators are as lovely as any image that graced theaters this year. Or next, most likely.
“The Good Dinosaur” may make both parents and children flinch a time or two. That’s part of growing up – understanding that being alive means making hard choices, losing friends and accepting life on its own terms. This “Dinosaur” offers enough cuddly moments for the kiddie set, but it’s those deeper messages that will last the longest.