The Good Dinosaur

The good Dinosaur

It’s time for a little retrospective. In 20 years, as a studio, Pixar has released just 16 films. That roughly translates to a gap of one year and 3 months between each feature. Compared with how much other studios usually churn out, that’s not a lot of output and therefore, whatever little has been released has been grand, opulent, memorable because their quality has been consistently maintained. There have however been some less than stellar efforts along the way. The Good Dinosaur happens to be one of them.

The previews for the film prepare us well. This is the story of an alternative Earth where that big chunk of rock from the sky missed our planet. The giant reptiles that existed only prehistorically therefore survive, and over the course of millions of years learn how to speak, live mostly in accord with each other and cultivate the land for food. One such dinosaur is Arlo, who lives with his parents and siblings on a patch of green where they grow crops for the winter. This harmony is shattered when Arlo meets with tragedy, is separated from his family and needs to find his way back home. The film is therefore an unimaginative cross between Homer’s Odyssey and Anthony Minghella’s sweeping Southwest civil war saga Cold Mountain.

The “what-if” scenario of the film is what gives it the most impetus. Because Dinos are still the dominant species, humans are less evolved and the character of a cave-boy is effectively equivalent here to being the sidekick to Arlo’s insecure teen. Even the boys name (Spot) is reminiscent of friendly canines. The film scores high points for being daring enough to use this setup in a film aimed primarily at kids – try explaining evolution or symbiotic relationships to the little one’s after the screening. But this is the kind of unusual tact that Pixar is known for and they use it, for a portion of the film at least, quite well. It also helps immensely that for a film set in nature, the visuals of the animated landscape look stellar, featuring some of the most photorealistic work Pixar has ever produced.

These dinosaurs have nothing in common though with the fearful Rex from the Toy Story series for they lack character and the setting just throws them around from one tired situation to another. This also underscores one of the film’s major problems. Watching it, you get the feeling it doesn’t know what it wants to be. At various points it feels like a sprawling Western, a coming of age saga or an epic adventure. It also rather shamelessly and obviously aims for our tear-ducts, something uncharacteristic of Pixar. However, most unmemorable of all is Arlo himself, a pleasant, likeable nobody who faces many adversaries but no main antagonist.

It all boils down to this. The Good Dinosaur is neither inventively original nor wildly imaginative – both the hallmarks of the best Pixar films (look no further than this years brilliant Inside Out). In truth, it all feels painfully like Pixar trying to ape the less ingenious studios that have sprouted up since it’s success. To be even more specific, Dinosaur is essentially what the first Ice Age film would have been had it been created by this studio instead of 20th Century Fox’s animation division. The Good Dinosaur isn’t terrible or plain bad; it’s just not very good. Knowing this, perhaps “The Average Dinosaur” might have been a more fitting title for it.

Rating: ★★½☆☆

About Faizan Rashid

A veteran Dubai based film critic, Faizan has been reviewing movies for nearly a decade. His work has been published in local newspapers such as 7days and on prestigious online websites such as MSN Arabia and