A bit late to the table, maybe, but this movie was delayed several times, so it’s only fitting my response is as well. My initial take on The Good Dinosaur, and I mean my take on it going into the theater, was that it was about to be a damn good movie. It had to be! This was Pixar’s last chance to be brilliantly original for the next few years, and despite the bad reviews I read in the days before the movie was released, I really was hoping that it would be a misunderstood winner.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t.
I think one unsettling qualm I had with this film was that it lacked any compelling antagonist. There’s nobody in this film that you can point to immediately and say, “That guy (or gal [or thing]).” You might argue that it was the scavengers, and I would agree with you if I they appeared onscreen for more than 12 minutes total. Outside of those 12 minutes, the birds hardly influenced Arlo’s journey.
Don’t worry, I also haven’t missed the fact that this film is a coming-of-age story either. I get it, Arlo is learning to fend for himself as he finds his way back home, but that is not at all original. Keep in mind, the studio that gave us Up, Wall-E, Monsters Inc., and Finding Nemo is falling back on this extremely patterned, typical, trite story. True, all of these films have elements of self-discovery, but Pixar was more careful in toeing the line between self-discovery and coming-of-age, and in this case they simply fell on the wrong side of that line. In past films, Pixar has presented simple stories in new forms. The Good Dinosaur painfully reeked of The Lion King, and there wasn’t a moment in the film where I felt genuinely surprised or unsure of the next development in the story. The scene that absolutely boggled my mind was when Arlo and his dad run through the field together at night and wake up the lightning bugs. It so clearly harkened back to Lion King that I was entirely removed from the film at hand. If there was any other goal to this scene’s extremely direct extra-filmic reference, it was entirely lost on me.
I don’t want to fully bog down on Pixar, though. From what I understand, this film had deep troubles, and after passing through the hands of several different directors, as well as seeing its release date pushed back a few times, one might see how Pixar would fall back on a recycled, simplistic storyline. I also loved the artistic decision to blend ultra-realistic settings with caricatured dinosaurs. While I can see it would be unsettling for some, I found it visually fascinating, like when Eddie Valiant enters Toontown in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988). It almost seems to signal that the film is not taking itself too seriously with such a visual contrast.
Overall, I was really excited to see a new, original story from Pixar, but was disappointed that by and large it presented us with nothing all that new. An entirely predictable story, and any reasonable familiarity with Lion King will automatically cue all viewers back to that film. Bad move. I was impressed, however, with “Sanjay’s Super Team”. While I believe that it would have received a lot more fire had Christianity been featured as prominently in the short as Hinduism was, I really respect Pixar’s effort to present a culture and story that is most likely unfamiliar to many of its audiences. Especially with their coming line up of sequels, it’s awesome Pixar is able to retain some autonomy in their short subjects.