Family Movie Review: The Good Dinosaur (PG)

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MPAA Rating: PG       Length: 100 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 8+. The latest from Pixar has the tragic elements we’ve come to expect from Disney films, with parents and other beloved characters who die; also, there is a fair amount of violence and scary stuff (including flash floods, slaughtered animals, bugs and other critters are eaten, animals are hunted by other malicious ones, an animal’s tooth is impaled in another animal’s mouth), the implication of a curse word (the word beginning with “bullsh” is started but not finished), and some suggested drug use (characters eat fermented fruit and experience strange visions and hallucinations).

Pixar’s ‘The Good Dinosaur’ feels incomplete, a good idea padded beyond its natural limit. The film goes from heartfelt to weird and back again, and despite astoundingly beautiful visuals doesn’t hit home emotionally as it should.

By Roxana Hadadi

It’s sometimes hard to believe that “The Good Dinosaur” is an animated movie. The latest offering from Pixar is so astonishingly, jaw-droppingly beautiful that you can’t believe it’s not real – not real leaves, not real corn, not real rain, not real moonlight, not real rushing river water. The visuals are gorgeous and the 3D is necessary, but the story itself is where “The Good Dinosaur” stumbles.

In comparison with Pixar’s earlier offering this year, “Inside Out,” “The Good Dinosaur” is clearly inferior: it’s not as unique, not as imaginative, not as aimed at parents with its zingers. In fact, “The Good Dinosaur” has few zingers at all, but also a more modest premise than “Inside Out.” Characters are also lost here, but the narrative doesn’t operate on as many emotional layers as “Inside Out” did. The road home is more straightforward.

That’s not inherently a bad thing, but while “The Good Dinosaur” is clearly using its simpler story to appeal to a younger audience, it can’t stretch the premise. There are 100 minutes of movie here but almost a full half-hour feels like filler, with characters and subplots that seem tacked on. Especially strange is the movie’s prevailing drug humor, with the film’s protagonists tripping out on fermented fruit and twitchy, iridescent raptors (implied to be modeled on drug addicts?) serving as villains. For a film that seems more geared to toddlers than adults, why these strange non-sequiturs of subplots? It makes no sense.

“The Good Dinosaur” takes place in a world where dinosaurs never went extinct, and instead evolved into the same kind of roles inhabited by humans today – herbivore dinosaurs are farmers, carnivore dinosaurs are ranchers, that kind of thing. To a family of Apatosaurus corn farmers is born Arlo (voiced by Raymond Ochoa, of “Mr. Peabody and Sherman”), smaller and more fearful than his siblings, and concerned that he won’t “make a mark” like his parents encouraged. So Arlo’s father (voiced by Jeffrey Wright, of “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2”) gives him a task to prove himself: getting rid of the mysterious critter who keeps eating the family’s corn supply that is supposed to keep them through winter.

But Arlo can’t do it, especially when he sees that the critter is a young boy, clad in a diaper made of leaves and capable only of barking or howling like a wolf. His indecision frustrates his family – it doesn’t help that his brother has already labeled him a coward – and after a tragedy that Arlo thinks he caused, he ends up separated from his family and swept downriver. How is he going to get back to them? And the boy, who Arlo names Spot (voiced by Jack Bright, of “Monsters University”), is along for the ride – will he end up as a friend or foe?

The problem with “The Good Dinosaur” isn’t that the story is too plain to be interesting, because watching Arlo and Spot walk across the landscape Pixar artists have created is often quite fulfilling enough – the pair silhouetted against mountains, seemingly floating through clouds, or making their way through forests are all engaging and gorgeous sequences. But the subplots the film uses to break up those sequences feel strange and disjointed, and often surprisingly violent – pterodactyls preying on defenseless animals, raptors toying with Arlo and Spot for fun. They overshadow the winningly sensitive parts of the film in a brutal way.

“The Good Dinosaur” is a mostly gentle movie, and perhaps those stories are meant to demonstrate the cruelness of the world, but they don’t gel together well. Without effective transitions, too much of “The Good Dinosaur” feels like filler. There is a welcome message about kindness and sympathy here, but it’s buried under too much weirdness to really make “The Good Dinosaur” a winner.

(Head’s up! “The Good Dinosaur” is preceded by the Pixar short “Sanjay’s Super Team,” which is fantastic and arguably more emotionally poignant than the full-length feature. Don’t miss it!)

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