The Good Dinosaur
– for peril, action and thematic elements
Director: Peter Sohn
Starring: voices of Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand, Raymond Ochoa, Jack Bright, Steve Zahn, Anna Paquin, Sam Elliott
Running Time: 1 hour, 33 minutes
Theatrical Release Date: November 25, 2015
Blu-Ray Release Date: February 23, 2016 (Amazon.com)
From the innovative minds of DisneyoPixar comes a hilariously heartwarming adventure about the power of confronting and overcoming your fears and discovering who you are meant to be.
The Good Dinosaur asks the question: What if the asteroid that forever changed life on Earth missed the planet completely, and giant dinosaurs never became extinct? In this epic journey into the world of dinosaurs, an apatosaurus named Arlo makes an unlikely human friend. While traveling through a harsh and mysterious landscape, Arlo learns the power of confronting his fears and discovers what he is truly capable of.
(from Walt Disney Pictures)
Ever since releasing their first film, Toy Story, in 1995, Pixar has been making some of the best animated feature films around–and consistently so. The Good Dinosaur marks the first time in over twenty years of filmmaking that the studio has released two films in one year, following Inside Out‘s summer release. For their second 2015 outing, Pixar presents us with a hypothetical scenario: What if the ateroid that presumably hit Earth and wiped out the dinosaurs never collided with our planet at all? What would life potentially look like?
The Good Dinosaur is a unique story with familiar elements and even some predictable plot developments. But in this alternate “what-if” reality, we’re taken “5 million years” in time past the asteroid missing Earth. In this world, dinosaurs are actually the dominant species, with humans being more scarcely found out in the wilderness. Pixar also treats this dinosaur world a bit like the old west, with a lot of the characters having southern accents, and the main apatosaurus family even tending their own farm where they grow their own crops and harvest their own food. The main character is a bit of a runt named Arlo who’s just about scared of everything you could imagine and tends to come up short when stacked up against his parents and two siblings. His father remains pretty understanding and tries to help Arlo overcome his fears and leave his “mark” on life, so to speak. But when Arlo gets separated from his family while chasing a pesky critter, who happens to be human, Arlo is reluctantly thrust out on an adventure that tests his courage and survival skills.
The first thing I noticed about The Good Dinosaur was the absolutely breathtaking animation that is near photorealistic at times (specifically in the depiction of water and nature). The story initially comes off as rather unique and intriguing, but then starts to feel rather common and perhaps even uninspired. The journey story isn’t anything new for these kinds of films, even feeling a tad like the original The Land Before Time or An American Tail, but Pixar does it with excellence in a way that still makes it worthwhile. The real heart and charm of The Good Dinosaur is in the quirky relationship between Arlo and the little human neanderthal he names Spot. The role reversal here is what makes it feel special, but the moment you mentally switch the roles around, you may realize there isn’t a whole lot that sets this film apart from tales that came before it.
Aside from the lovable characters of Arlo and Spot, there’s a really strong theme of family present that is heartwarming. Admittedly, I found myself getting choked up more than once during the course of the story. It’s something common for a Pixar film–including the recent Inside Out–and it helps elevate this film to a new level. In a time where it seems like society has it in for the bond of family and the structure of it, it’s absolutely refreshing to see a film like The Good Dinosaur so devoted to families. It’s a theme that is even celebrated on the last frame of the credits with the production team’s own families.
The content is certainly of the PG variety, although it’s still mostly kid-friendly. Inside Out felt like a family film mostly for adults, but The Good Dinosaur feels much more geared and primed for younger viewers. A few scenes show dinosaur predators chasing and biting at other dinosaurs that may be a little intense for some of the kids, however. And one unexpected moment–which is also kind of played for laughs–shows some pterodactyls enlisting Arlo’s help to rescue a cute furry little critter, only to immediately eat it and then fight over it (by pulling on the animal’s tail as it sticks out of one of the bird’s mouth). There otherwise isn’t much visually gross, aside from a short moment where a T-Rex is telling the story of how he earned some scars on his face and then shows everyone a tooth that is impaled in his gums inside his mouth (and wiggles it). Finally, the theme of family also involves a theme of loss, and it is an emotionally heavy aspect of the story.
The Good Dinosaur isn’t one of Pixar’s best films, but it’s a solid Disney film and still a quality animated feature. It’s a must-see for dinosaur story fans and fans of Pixar films, but those who may be pickier with their animated entertainment might want to pass on this one and wait for Finding Dory later this summer.
– John DiBiase, (reviewed: 2/22/16)
Blu-Ray Special Features Review
The Good Dinosaur is available in a 3D Blu-Ray/2D Blu-Ray/DVD/Digtial combo pack, a Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital combo pack and on single disc DVD, as well as separately through the usual digital movie providers. The Blu-Ray release of The Good Dinosaur includes quite a few bonus features. The film offers incredible visuals that need to be experienced in high definition to truly appreciate, so I wouldn’t recommend seeing it any other way. The special features on the Blu-Ray disc include:
Sanjay’s Super Team (7:07) – Pixar is known for having unique animated shorts preceding their movies and “Sanjay’s Super Team” is one of the most bizarre. It’s about a little boy in India watching a cartoon show called “Super Team” while his father is trying to kneel and pray quietly in front of a wooden prayer box. They both disrupt each other until the father shuts off the TV and makes Sanjay pray with him. In the process, Sanjay daydreams about a big fight involving deities from the Indian culture fighting the forces of evil. The ending is adorable, but it feels like a really random short, even for Pixar. Still, it’s a pretty cute little story.
True Lies About Dinosaurs (1:56) – This tongue-in-cheek little featurette addresses the cinematic artistic liberties they took to make the story, and compares it to some of the facts we know about dinosaurs (but it does talk a lot about evolution too, including how birds evolved from dinosaurs, which is debatable, of course).
Recyclosaurus (6:19) takes us inside the walls of the Pixar Animation Studios, showing us some of the crazy fun those at Pixar have (And you’ll wish you worked there too). Here we see the different departments using “junk” and “unwanted things” to make dinosaur characters from the film as part of a studio-wide competition.
The Filmmakers’ Journey (7:54) – A new team and first-time director talk about overcoming their own fears to make the film happen in a record amount of time. It centers on the director Peter Sohn’s journey through this job for the first time, and how his experience mirrored Arlo’s a bit. It’s surprisingly short for this kind of featurette but also surprisingly complete too.
Every Part of the Dinosaur (6:08) focuses on how emotion and performance needs to come out of the characters without a lot of dialog. They also talk about how they created the characters and their movements and such.
Following The T-Rex Trail (6:58) – They took the crew to Oregon to meet a cattle-herding family to get inspired for the production. We’re treated to some footage on the McKay farm and hear Peter’s account of getting to herd cattle for the first time on the back of a horse!
Deleted Scenes (10:41) – Sohn introduces the deleted scenes, all presented as ideas that were proposed but didn’t really work for the movie. Each scene is also presented as unfinished sketches. The first was an unused idea of why Arlo is so afraid of the world. In it, he’s attacked as an infant by a big scary dinosaur, which obviously sticks with him as he grows older. “Building The Silo” is another sequence that was used to show Arlo’s relationship with his dad as they built something together. It’s pretty cute and touching, but I see why they would cut it for time and pacing. “Waiting for Poppa” shows a frightened Arlo cowering at home in the rain hoping his lost father would return.
Dino Bites (4:15) is just a little montage of random moments with the characters — like walking across the screen or interacting with the camera, playing with each other, etc.
Hide and Seek (0:59) is a minute-long montage of scenes showing Arlo and Spot playing hide-and-seek. It’s cute, it’s fun, and it’s a nice little addition on this disc.
Lastly, we have a feature-length commentary for the film as well as three film trailers, including the “North American Trailer 2,” “Russian Trailer” and “German Trailer.” All in all, they’re pretty decent bonus features.
– John DiBiase, (reviewed: 2/22/16)
Parental Guide: Content Summary
Vulgarity/Language: Arlo angrily yells at the chickens, “You cluckers!”
Alcohol/Drugs: Arlo and Spot eat some rotten berries that cause them to have hallucinations of seeing each other’s faces swell up or for their heads to swap on each other’s bodies.
Blood/Gore: Spot brings Arlo a huge beetle bug that is still alive. He rips the head off while trying to encourage him to eat it and we see the fleshy exposed neck where the head used to be; A rustler that’s been hit pulls out his own tooth and exclaims that it was his favorite one; The T-Rexes share scar stories and compare each other’s scars. The father T-Rex then tells of a time when he fought off crocodiles and shows the rest of the gang a gross looking tooth that had impaled his gums and is still there. We also see that one T-Rex was missing part of her tail and hear how she had bitten it off.
Violence: A meteor catches fire in the Earth’s atmosphere and whizzes past it; A dinosaur uses his tail to cut down a tree and toss it into a pile; Newborn Buck repeatedly hits his dad in leg with a stick. He then does so on an egg. Then after baby Arlo is born, he hits Arlo a few times too; We see Arlo running and screaming being chased by chickens several times; Buck pretends to die and then hits Arlo with his tail, mocking him; Papa traps a pumpkin as an example to Arlo for trapping an animal and smashes the pumpkin to show how he’ll kill it; Spot gets caught in a trap and is strangled by the ropes until Arlo cuts him loose; Arlo falls and hurts his knee; A large flood washes away a dinosaur. The very next scene opens with a view of a headstone on a grave; Arlo chases Spot and they fall into the river. Arlo hits his head and goes unconscious; Arlo falls down a cliff that he tries to climb and hits his head–but is okay; Arlo slips and falls and gets his leg pinned under a rock; Spot brings a lizard to Arlo to eat but it’s still alive and runs away. He then brings him a huge beetle bug that is still alive. He rips the head off while trying to encourage Arlo to eat it; A large snake lunges at Arlo who then falls off a cliff. Spot then wrestles the snake; We see a swarm of leeches all over Arlo; Arlo sees a storm coming and envisions the storm to be a wave of water with a monster face and teeth. In fear, Arlo runs and falls; The bird Thunderclap suddenly eats a furry animal. The other birds pull at the tail hanging out of his mouth; The birds then chase Arlo and Spot, trying to grab and eat Spot; T-Rexes attack the birds; Spot bites Arlo’s leg to get him to roar; Rustlers attack them but the Rexes attack them back. Two rustlers get thrown. One that’s been hit pulls out his own tooth and exclaims that it was his favorite one; The T-Rexes tell stories about their scars. One has large teeth marks in the side of their face and shows a crocodile tooth sticking out of their gums, while another one had bitten the tip of their own tail off; The birds hit Arlo in the head and take Spot. Arlo falls into vines and gets hit on the head; Lightning strikes many trees and knocks them over; We see a character trapped in a tree trunk getting attacked by birds trying to eat them. Arlo fights them off and throws a stick at one, knocking it out of the air and into the river; A flood washes a couple characters away, with one appearing dead after they wash up on shore (but they’re not dead).