After many years of loving movies and going to the cinema, I have given myself one rule. Go in with low expectations, and you will more often than not be pleasantly surprised. There is one exception to the rule, however: Pixar. The Good Dinosaur is a Disney Pixar movie aimed firmly at the younger kiddies, but with the high quality craftsmanship and focus on story and characters which audience members have come to expect from the studio. So, is it any good?The Good Dinosaur is a tale set in an alternate reality where the asteroid that made dinosaurs extinct 65 million years ago barely misses the planet. A few million years later, dinosaurs have evolved from mindless prehistoric lizards into more gentle and civilized Pixar characters that have families, live in houses and are somehow good at growing crops. The story focuses on a young wimpy dinosaur named Arlo, the youngest of 3 in his family, and his unlikely friendship with a lesser evolved but much braver human pet named Spot. You see, in this world humans are the pets and dinosaurs are the ‘humans’. Arlo and Spot are both lost in the big scary world, and together they must help each other survive and find home.
Right off the bat, it needs to be said that The Good Dinosaur is good, but ultimately it is not great. When you think of the great Pixar movies: Ratatoullie, The Incredibles, Wall.E, Finding Nemo and even this years Inside Out, we are talking about flawless masterpieces. Unfortunately, The Good Dinosaur is not on the level of those giants. I would place it somewhere between ‘better than Cars’ but ‘not as good as Brave’.
It appears that the project went through a slightly bumpy creative process with the original director, Bob Peterson (co-director of UP) being replaced by first time feature director Peter Sohn half way through production. I can’t help but wonder if this affected the usually perfect story telling that Pixar has become so famous for. Like the aforementioned asteroid which sets up this world, the story seems to just miss ever so slightly, but enough to lack the impact and resolution I have come to expect. Still, I must emphasise that a Pixar film, even on a bad day, is still head and shoulders above most other films, let alone animated features.
Visually, as far as what can be acheived using computers to create art, this is Pixars most stunning film to date. The environments are easily the hero of the show, with breath taking scenery that is just gorgeous to look at. The contrast between the hyper realistic rendering and the simple cartoony shapes of the dinosaurs is a real visual treat. That alone makes The Good Dinosaur worth watching on the big screen. You will find yourself often wondering how it is possible that you are not looking at real life. I guess it is a given that Pixar will get that side of things right, including the acting performances (both voice and animation), and they really do nail it here.
As far as its target audience goes, I can see this being a huge hit. Kids will love The Good Dinosaur. Younger audiences will feel some of the fear that Arlo feels during the movie when things get dark, loud and even psychedelic for a moment. There are some scary things in this world, but to earn your mark in life you must face those fears and conquer them. That is the films literal message, and you are hit over the head with it, but I think that little ones who make it all the way through to the end will be all the braver for it.
This is one for the kids, but there might just be enough of the usual Pixar charm and flare for anyone to really enjoy it.
THE GOOD DINOSAUR hits Australian cinemas December 26th 2015