What’s this? Two Pixar films in one year? Yes folks, for the first time ever, the animation giants have achieved the feat of having two new films open up in the same year. Of course back in June we got the truly amazing ‘Inside Out’, which was easily the company’s best film of the past few years, and now here in November, we have Pixar’s second 2015 effort, ‘The Good Dinosaur’. However, the reason why this film ended up getting released the same year as ‘Inside Out’ could be regarded as a rather troubling one. For you see, this film was originally supposed to be Pixar’s 2014 release directed by Bob Peterson AKA the voice of Dug the talking dog in ‘Up’. However, in August of 2013, it was announced that Peterson had been removed from the film and that it was being completely reworked after he had been having trouble with the final act, with fellow Pixar employee Peter Sohn (AKA Emile from ‘Ratatouille’) taking over as the new director. Now for the record, this isn’t the first time that this has happened with Pixar. Production of the first ‘Toy Story’ was briefly shut down after the edgier take on the story suggested by Disney’s then-chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg proved to be a disaster. Its first sequel, ‘Toy Story 2’, was not only reworked from its initial direct-to-video state but the final product was completed in just nine months. But from today’s perspective, pair all of that production turmoil with the middling reception of Pixar’s post ‘Toy Story 3’ run and basically you have a lot of people predicting that this film was going to be a disaster. But in the end, ‘The Good Dinosaur’ very much proves its critics wrong because while it may end up being one of Pixar’s simpler stories, it’s still a very charming and beautiful effort from the studio.
‘The Good Dinosaur’ sets up a world in which the infamous meteor that resulted in the extinction of all dinosaurs ends up missing Earth entirely, allowing the dinosaurs to live on and further evolve. 65 million years later, a young Apatosaurus named Arlo (Raymond Ochoa) lives on a farm with his family; his father Henry (Jeffrey Wright), his mother Ida (Frances McDormand), and his siblings Buck (Marcus Scribner) and Libby (Maleah Padilla). But because of his fearful nature, Arlo continually finds it difficult to help his family around the farm so that he can truly earn his ‘mark’ (a mud-print on the farm silo). His father tries to help him overcome his fears by giving him the job of dealing with pests that try to steal their food. But after a flash flood in which Henry is tragically killed, Arlo ends up getting washed far away from home when he falls into the river right next to the farm. Remembering what his father told him about ‘using the river to find his way home’, Arlo soon comes across a feral cave-boy who he names ‘Spot’ (Jack Bright), who ironically happens to be the same pest that Arlo was trying to stop and was inadvertently responsible for the events that led to Arlo’s father’s death and Arlo getting swept away from his home, and the two become friends as they brave the wilderness and all sorts of potential threats, including a group of carnivorous pterodactyls, as they try to get back to Arlo’s home.
To be perfectly frank, ‘The Good Dinosaur’ is a much simpler story compared to some of Pixar’s other films. It’s basically just a story about the main character trying to get home. But even with that said, I feel that there’s much more to this film than just that. For one thing, it genuinely is a very unique take on the classic ‘boy and his dog’ story, except in this case the boy is ‘the dog’ and the dog, in this case a dinosaur, is ‘the boy’. But then it also carries some really strong themes, mainly the idea of being able to overcome your fear, resulting in a great character arc for Arlo as he very much finds himself outside of his comfort zone. Though at the same time, the film also stresses that fear is a natural thing and as one character puts it, “If you ain’t scared… you ain’t alive.” There have been some who said that the film is too ‘kiddie’, that it’s the first Pixar film that’s ‘just for kids’ (which therefore gives me the assumption that they apparently forgot about ‘Cars 2’, which was the ‘real’ first Pixar film to get that ‘description’ by critics). But quite frankly that’s far from the truth as this film is a great ‘coming-of-age’ story that gives us a great friendship between the two main characters, Arlo and Spot, even though it starts out with Arlo being angry at Spot for getting them lost in the first place. But as time goes on, the two grow closer as they look out for each other in this dangerous world of dinosaurs and, without giving anything major away, this leads to some very emotional moments as one would normally expect from Pixar films.
This film feels very much like ‘Wall-E’ in that it focuses more on visual storytelling than it does with dialogue, especially in a great scene in which Arlo and Spot lament about their lost families. And of course, the animation is the usual Pixar level of excellence, even though there have been some who felt that the more cartoony characters don’t mix very well with the photorealistic environments, something that I didn’t really have any major problem with. The film’s voice cast was another element of the film that got redeveloped along with the story. Initially, the film was going to star, among others, John Lithgow, Neil Patrick Harris, Bill Hader, and Judy Greer. But from this initial cast, only Frances McDormand stayed on as the voice of Arlo’s mother while Lithgow was replaced by Jeffrey Wright as Arlo’s father and Harris, Hader, and Greer’s characters, Arlo’s original three siblings, were replaced in favor of just two siblings, his brother Buck and his sister Libby. But just like how the film works great without a whole lot of dialogue, the film’s small voice cast is, in a way, able to stand out more because of it. Arlo was originally voiced by Lucas Neff before the filmmakers switched him with Raymond Ochoa to give Arlo a younger voice and that’s definitely a good idea because it better reflects how the character matures over the course of the film. Wright and McDormand are great as usual in their small roles as Arlo’s parents and the film features some very memorable side characters, including director Peter Sohn as a Styracosaurus named Forrest Woodbush who ‘owns’ a bunch of animals that reside on his horns and Sam Elliott, Anna Paquin, and A.J. Buckley as a trio of T-Rex ‘ranchers’.
Given the film’s current rating of 78% on RT, this is definitely going to be one of the more polarizing entries in Pixar’s lineup alongside films like ‘Brave’ and ‘Monsters University’. Some have accused this film of being ‘simplistic’ and that it’s only ‘for kids’, which is an argument that unfortunately has been made from time to time over the years by certain people when it comes to animated films. But I’m going to concur with an argument made by my friend Kyle over at ‘Kyle’s Animated World’; what’s so bad about Pixar making a film that isn’t a complete masterpiece? I’m not afraid to admit that I don’t ‘hate’ ‘Cars 2’ and feel that both ‘Brave’ and ‘Monsters University’ are solid efforts from the company even if they aren’t amongst their absolute best. ‘The Good Dinosaur’ is another fine case of that. Yes it’s one of the simpler affairs from the studio but there’s more to it than what some may claim. As a film that’s more about visual storytelling than dialogue-based storytelling, it perfectly executes its themes of courage and friendship through the main character Arlo’s main story arc and his overall relationship with the feral cave-boy Spot. And of course like many Pixar films, it features amazing animation and some genuinely emotional moments that I guarantee are going to make you tear up. Similar to how Marvel managed to overcome some production troubles with this year’s ‘Ant-Man’, ‘The Good Dinosaur’ managed to overcome its initial production troubles to become yet another great effort from Pixar that’s great for the whole family and not just for kids as some of its critics claim it is.
For those who have already seen the film, please check out my friend Kyle’s ‘spoiler’ review of it in the link provided below;