What if the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago… missed? That is the question at the heart of The Good Dinosaur. So let’s think about that for a second. Where would that leave humans? How would prehistoric beasts have evolved?
Set millions of years after the asteroid’s near miss, we follow young Arlo, a small, weedy Apatosaurus growing up alongside his parents and siblings on a working farm – something of which is a result of dinosaurs evolving further, as is their ability to talk to each other. Due to his small stature, Arlo slowly becomes an outcast within the family, failing to prove himself with farm work, known amongst the household as “making your mark”.
After a drastic flood, Arlo ends up stranded far away from his family in unfamiliar territory, left with nothing but the nagging company of a small, untamed, Neanderthal-like boy, who he takes in as a friend and pet, naming him Spot. On a journey to find their way back to Arlo’s home, Arlo and Spot learn how to survive at each other’s sides, avoiding danger at every turn.
Although it takes a while for everything to set itself in motion, The Good Dinosaur has a clear and steady coming-of-age arc to it, with Arlo gradually becoming the dinosaur his Poppa always wanted. The most integral part of Arlo’s journey is his relationship with Spot, which unlike many other relationships between animals and humans in film, works the other way around – with the animal acting as the tutor to the human. The breakdown in communication between the two make for humorous, slapstick misunderstandings; something at which the kids will no doubt chuckle.
There is one particularly touching moment where Arlo and Spot explain to each other how they have lost their families, using nothing but twigs in the ground to represent their loved ones, proving that the togetherness of family spans across all walks of life.
What makes Arlo’s journey convincing throughout is the voice acting of 14 year old Raymond Ochoa, a recruitment that was made to replace an older voice actor in order to give Arlo a much younger, more vulnerable personality. Other impressive voicings include Sam Elliot, who lends his True Grit-style brogue to a no-nonsense, ranch-roaming Tyrannosaurus called Butch.
Even though Ochoa’s voicing of Arlo helps to create a convincing journey, the rest of the film feels as though it is pieced together by a series of random, comical moments and characters. These include a cross-eyed Triceratops, wild Velociraptors called Rustlers and scavenger-like Pterodactyls voiced by a zany Steve Zahn. There is even a moment where Arlo and Spot eat “bad fruit” and fall victim to LSD-like hallucinations – a little left-field for a Disney production, but amusing nonetheless.
Aside to the slightly patchy and unadventurous plot, the animation is absolutely flawless, with the textured surfaces of the landscape and its shadows appearing vividly real. If it wasn’t for the eclectic, talking dinosaurs, you may expect to hear the soothing voice of David Attenborough documenting it all.
Though The Good Dinosaur has the potential to utilize a genuinely intriguing, historical idea, it fails to play around with it in a way that makes you think as much as Inside Out does – a film that had near enough the same budget. The script-writing process for the film became a little convoluted throughout its production, something which has been well publicized, and it definitely shows.
The Good Dinosaur goes through the motions of a memorable Disney film – and for many, this will be just what the doctor ordered. But the spark of newer Disney Pixar pictures is seemingly extinguished by what can only be described as a ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’ creative process. For those who have discovered new-found love for the inventiveness of some of the studios’ edgier editions, The Good Dinosaur may just feel a bit samey.