The idea is great, the animation is excellent — from the great floods to the small water droplets dripping off a dinosaur — and there is a clear, broad message thrown in — all no surprises for Pixar. However, this offering from the animation powerhouse falls the shortest on one of its strongest suits, the story.
So if the meteor had passed Earth by, the dinosaurs had survived, men had come to be born, and a baby dino and a baby human had met and become friends, what would have ensued? Perhaps something more than this linear and predictable story of the scared baby dino finding his way home, after a series of inconsequential encounters with fellow dinos.
It’s millions of years after that eventful meteor-miss, and a pack of Apatosaurus has learnt farming, logging, rearing pre-historic hens, and saving up for winter. They are all cut out for the job but for the youngest Arlo (Ochoa), who is easily scared even by the hens he feeds. Father Poppa (Wright) decides to take him on a night walk to boost his confidence, during the course of which there is a sudden flood and he loses his life. Soon after that, Arlo finds himself swept away from home in the river, and must now find his way home to Momma (McDormand) and two siblings.
A fearful Arlo, who doesn’t know how to even feed himself, finds himself trailed by a human baby, who he assumes is one of the many critters eating up his family’s stored corn. All of the energy the film sorely needs is packed in the tiny frame of this baby, named Spot (voiced superbly as basically a bunch of squeals and grunts by Bright), who chomps, bites, snarls, gnarls and glowers his way in and out of situations.
It’s a beautiful reversal of roles, both in the way how Sohn (also the co-scriptwriter, and the veteran of many Pixar animations) underlines the little realised fact that most of the large dinosaurs were vegetarians, and what it would be for humans to be dino pets.
While it is focused on Arlo and Spot’s growing admiration and friendship for each other, The Good Dinosaur blossoms and is genuinely pleasurable. However, since the obvious message has to be Arlo “growing up to his full potential”, dangers are thrown in his way in the form of other dinosaurs, none of whom has the personality to match Spot.
Without making a show of it, the film also notes the unpredictability of nature during those times, and how that dictated many of the animal migrations and behaviour patterns.
Some of those scenes are breathtakingly suspenseful, and yet the film can’t resist from having one of its dinos talk about being “rid of unrealistic goals”. A few more of those, and Arlo and The Good Dinosaur may have been well and truly home.
Directed by Peter Sohn
Voices of Raymond Ochoa, Jack Bright, Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand