The Good Dinosaur is my least favorite Pixar movie without Cars in the title. Hate is a strong word, but I strongly dislike almost everything about it. Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur were the first Pixar movies released in the same year. Disney’s done it many times, but Pixar avoids awards competition as much as possible. Well there was zero competition between films. Inside Out got all the accolades and The Good Dinosaur was the first Pixar movie to bomb at the box-office. Like I said with Disney’s Dinosaur, non-Jurassic Park dinosaur movies have bad luck. The Good Dinosaur asks the question, what if the asteroid never wiped out the dinosaurs?
I was actually very interested when I first heard the concept. Even more than Inside Out, but my mind changed as soon as I found out what that meant. Rather than some kind of modern society where humans and dinosaurs coexist, we have dinosaur agriculture. The idea came from Bob Peterson after he saw animatronic dinosaurs, but there were apparently story problems from day 1. Hence the 2014 year gap, Peter Sohn replacing the director, and the movie coming out after Inside Out despite being scheduled to come out first. At 20 years old, I had so little interest in The Good Dinosaur that my brother and I very nearly made it the first Pixar movie we didn’t see in theaters. After several weeks we saw it in an empty theater…
The Good Dinosaur plays with the short Sanjay’s Super Team. A visually pleasing Hindu superhero story about childhood that made me uncomfortable because of faith. The Good Dinosaur had such a perfect set up, yet you could cut out the asteroid, and it wouldn’t make a difference. A western is a hard enough sell to modern audiences, but a dinosaur western is expecting too much. The only thing that everyone agrees is flawless in The Good Dinosaur are the breathtaking landscapes. More advanced cloud rendering software was used and photorealism seemed to be the goal. The computer animation is so stunning and lifelike that the choice of overly cartoony Gumby dinosaurs is really distracting. Rex would have looked more convincing. I wasn’t opposed to the idea of giving dinosaurs emotions, but making them farmers is really boring. Arlo is a good Apatosaurus dinosaur born small and afraid of everything. His poppa Henry is a strong provider, his momma Ida is a dedicated worker, and his brother & sister Buck & Libby are better than him at everything.
The Good Dinosaur has a respectable cast with names like Jeffrey Wright and Frances McDormand, but the kid who voices Arlo is kinda annoying. Arlo is a real scaredy dino who screams more times than I can count. He desperately wants to earn his mark like the rest of his family, but he’s just too afraid. So his poppa shows him the magic of fireflies at night. One of many excuses to show off the animation. Pretty much the entire movie is looking at pretty things without the story to back it up. Arlo’s poppa encourages him by giving him a job to catch the critter that’s been stealing their corn. The critter is a wild caveboy who acts like a dog named Spot. Arlo doesn’t kill him like his poppa says, so he makes him go after it. In case it wasn’t obvious, a sudden storm “Mufasa’s” his poppa since he was just too encouraging. Arlo’s momma tries to work without him, but the movie sort of forgets about his siblings for a moment. Arlo blames Spot for his death and chases after him despite his fear. Setting off an uncomfortable chain of events that’s practically The Revenant for kids.
Arlo is left unconscious by the river and swept far away from his home near Clawtooth Mountain. Leading to a desperate need for survival that’s so miserable it feels more like a drama than a comedy. A big problem that Pixar started to do more and more. Despite Arlo’s grudge, Spot follows him, frees him, and even brings food for him. Arlo & Spot slowly become a dinosaur and his boy type unlikely duo. All they do is try surviving one crazy situation after another with characters that come and go with varying importance. There’s also a lot of WTF moments that seriously push the PG rating. Like Spot ripping off a giant bugs head, Spot fighting a snake with legs, and Arlo & Spot tripping on fermented fruit. Random dinosaurs include a strange Styracosaurus covered in animals who inspires Arlo to name Spot, then disappears forever. Probably the only time I felt anything was Arlo bonding with Spot over family loss represented by sticks and a circle in the dirt.
Although nature is clearly the villain, a psychotic storm worshiping Steve Zahn voiced Pterodactyl named Thunderclap is a close second. Although Thunderclap and his band seem to be friendly at first, he eats an adorable critter right in front of him. With the lifeless tail hanging from his mouth and other Pterodactyls fighting over it. Way to traumatized everyone. Thunderclap is chased off by friendly T-Rex’s who are more like cowboy ranchers. They even gallop like horses. Sam Elliott voices the father T-Rex and Anna Paquin & A. J. Buckley voice his children. They’re standard southern stereotypes who wrangle longhorns with Arlo & Spot’s help. Avoiding feathered hillbilly Velociraptor rustlers in the process. John Ratzenberger voices one of them, but he’s as unrecognizable as the Pizza Planet truck is hard to find. The T-Rex’s give Arlo advice about fear and he uses it when Thunderclap captures Spot after Arlo is left tied up.
After hallucinating a vision with his poppa, Arlo confronts Thunderclap. Spot gruesomely bites a hole through his wing and Arlo finishes him off with a tree branch. Then Arlo & Spot somehow survive the same flood that killed his poppa and Arlo tearfully says goodbye to Spot when they find a silver haired human family. It’s supposed to be the big tear worthy moment, but I honestly felt nothing. In the end, Spot goes off with his new family and Arlo reunites with his. Finally earning his mark on the silo. The Good Dinosaur does have effort put into it. Visuals are still worth the experience despite how silly the dinosaurs look. The story is simple enough for children, but the brutal aspects might be too much for them. So it’s not hard to see why The Good Dinosaur faded into obscurity and is almost completely forgotten in Pixar’s library.