It's finally here. The Good Dinosaur has been announced, then pushed back, was sort of remade and the finished filmed just reached our theaters. Originally, Bob Peterson (co-director of Up) was going to direct it, but he had to leave the project in 2013. Pete Sohn (Partly Cloudy) took over as the solo director; a change of director is usually not a good sign. However, Pixar has had a few of those situations in the past, and at least one of them ended with a brilliant film (Ratatouille). Some other times, it hasn't been that great (ahem, Cars 2).
Fortunately, The Good Dinosaur is closer from Ratatouille than Cars 2. Our review below.
The Good Dinosaur is a friendship story between a boy and his dog. The thing is, here the boy is a young Apatosaurus named Arlo, and the dog is a feral child, Spot.
After Arlo gets separated from his family, he and the young human have to understand each other to survive in the wilderness and help Arlo get home.
From the opening shots, the thing that hits you immediately about Pixar's 16th feature film is how good it all looks, especially the nature element of it. Even if you've seen all the trailers, you have seen nothing yet.
Usually, Pixar holds itself back on the technological side, because these worlds are not meant to be real. It's particularly true for a film like this year's Inside Out, where most of the story takes place in an environment that had to be dreamed up by the filmmakers. But the approach on The Good Dinosaur regarding the backgrounds was totally different; nature is treated as a menacing character, so giving it a photo-real look makes perfect sense. Pixar didn't hold back at all here, to the point where some shots are completely mistakable for live-action footage.
And there's something breathtaking about watching Arlo and Spot walk the beautiful and huge landscapes fabulously designed and lit by the Pixar crew.
The story has a bit of trouble really getting off the ground. The first act is fine, but feels quite slow and it's only when Arlo and Spot start to bond that The Good Dinosaur reaches its full potential. Then it's a film full of amazingly powerful and/or funny scenes. Some of them are completely dialogue-free, and are a good reminder of how good Pixar is at telling a story visually.
The plot is pretty straightforward. It's pretty easy to see how the film will end. Nothing catches you by surprise, there's no clever twist. But it only makes the ending more inevitable and more moving, I believe.
Some people have found that the story resembles that of a certain Disney movie. And you know what? That's true. Ultimately though, if it works, it works. The story of Arlo is what it should be, and changing it for the sake of originality may only hurt the film. The Good Dinosaur, from a structural point of view is not original, that's true, and it's not ideal. But it's effective, and that's all that matters, really.
Originality can still be found in the movie; but it's in the little moments, in the details. One short scene in particular involving rotten fruits had the theater audience burst into laughter (myself included), because of how crazy it was.
One issue I had with The Good Dinosaur was the way the secondary characters were used. Some of them are great, or at least had the potential to be: the problem is these characters are in and out of the movie so fast. I felt they were underused. They just pop up, do their crazy/funny thing, and go away, sometimes for good. Forrest Woodbush (voiced by Pete Sohn himself) is a prime example of this. He has one (great) scene, but then he disappears as Arlo and Spot move on to a new section of their journey.
All in all, The Good Dinosaur is a great film. Not groundbreaking, but you will certainly enjoy the funny and moving adventures of Arlo and Spot. There are a lot of things to love here: stunning visuals, a lovely score by Mychael and Jeff Danna and more importantly, this film has a big heart.