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The Good Dinosaur

D: Peter Sohn / 93m

Cast: Raymond Ochoa, Jack Bright, Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand, Steve Zahn, Sam Elliott, Anna Paquin, A.J. Buckley, Jack McGraw

Anyone going to see The Good Dinosaur should know a couple of things before they do. One: if you’re expecting a movie as enjoyable and as creative as Inside Out was earlier this year, then you’re going to be disappointed. And two: you’ll be surprised at how bland and pedestrian it all is.

The Good Dinosaur - scene2

Getting that out of the way at the beginning of this review makes it easier to write the following: Pixar should have let this one die in development. The movie has had a troubled history. Original director Bob Peterson was removed from the movie in 2013 because he couldn’t come up with a final, third act. All of the cast, with the exception of McDormand, were replaced, large chunks of the script were re-written, and the movie was re-scheduled for release two years after its original, planned release date (27 November 2013). All in all, it feels very much as if, having sunk an awful lot of money into the production, Pixar had a choice: write off the project entirely and take a large financial hit, or carry on in the hope that the finished product will be good enough to earn back its costs.

Obviously they chose the latter, but it was the wrong decision. The Good Dinosaur is a movie that any other animation company could have made, and that’s not what we should be saying about a Pixar movie. It may be unfair, but Pixar is synonymous with animation excellence, both in terms of the visuals and the stories. And while The Good Dinosaur contains some of the most photo-realistic animation ever, when it comes to the story, it becomes clear that it wasn’t only the third act that had problems. Once the basic premise is done with – meteor that wipes out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago misses the earth, leaving dinosaurs to evolve further – the movie doesn’t know if it wants to be the new The Land Before Time (1988), an out-and-out Western, or a distant narrative cousin to The Lion King (1994). And it doesn’t help that against all the beautifully rendered backdrops, we have an apatosaurus whose animation looks like it was sub-contracted out to Aardman (it’s Arlo’s eyes – take a look at Chicken Run (2000) and you’ll see what I mean).

The Good Dinosaur - scene3

But whichever story it’s trying to tell, it’s not strong enough to hold the audience’s attention, and scenes pass by that provoke ennui instead of engagement. Even the relationship between Arlo and Spot, normally something you could rely on Pixar to make affecting and charming, proves merely sufficient to the story’s needs, and the “inventiveness” of having Spot being the “pet” wears off pretty quickly. With the movie’s two lead characters lacking a way to connect with the audience, it further hinders the movie’s attempts to make itself a satisfying experience for the viewer.

The movie also has problems with its tone, as it mixes humorous elements with moments of terrible heartbreak, and there’s an unexpected sequence where Arlo and Spot get stoned. The introduction of friendly T-Rexes is a bit of a stretch, and leads to a campfire scene where you wonder if an homage to Blazing Saddles (1974) is on the cards (The Good Dinosaur has lots of these moments, ones that remind you of other, better movies). It all goes to reinforce the idea that Pixar have released their latest movie in the hopes that it’ll recoup its costs before anyone notices how disappointing it is.

Rating: 5/10 – saved from a lower score by the incredible visuals, which elevate the material just by being there, The Good Dinosaur is yet another unfortunate example of Pixar having (mostly) lost their way in recent years; even the talented voice cast can’t do much to improve things, and potential viewers will be better off waiting until Finding Dory (2016) is released for their next Pixar fix.