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"THE GOOD DINOSAUR"
(2015) (voices of Raymond Ochoa, Jeffrey Wright) (PG)


Read Our Full Content Movie Review for Parents

QUICK TAKE:
Animated Action: When an asteroid narrowly misses prehistoric Earth, a dinosaur and a human form an unlikely bond.
PLOT:
In an alternate Earth where an asteroid did not strike the planet 65 million years ago, dinosaurs still exist and are the dominant species. They speak, live in houses, and have cultivated such skills as farming. Dinosaurs Henry (voice of JEFFREY WRIGHT) and Momma (voice of FRANCES McDORMAND) are about to become parents and welcome the hatching of their three eggs. The runt of this litter is Arlo (voice of RAYMOND OCHOA), who is born scared and hesitant.

Over the years, Henry tries to teach his boy courage and self-reliance and to make his mark in the world. When a savage human boy named Spot (voice of JACK BRIGHT) keeps stealing their food, Henry challenges Arlo to set a trap and then beat to death the ensnared Spot. Arlo can't do it and instead sets Spot free. Henry implores Arlo to chase after him. They do, but a surprise flash floor carries Henry off to his death.

Days later, Arlo finds Spot back and stealing from his family again and chases him to the nearby river where he is also carried off far away. Determined to get back to his family, Arlo reluctantly teams up with Spot and braves a bunch of evil pterodactyls led by Thunderclap (voice of STEVE ZAHN) and gets help from a gruff T-Rex named Butch (voice of SAM ELLIOTT) and his kids Nash (voice of A.J. BUCKLEY) and Ramsey (voice of ANNA PAQUIN).

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
I can't say I am surprised, because not a single bit of marketing leading up to my recent preview screening of "The Good Dinosaur" really stoked my interest in the film. But this is the first Pixar movie that has ended up being a non-event film. Is it a bad movie? No, not really. I mean, it's not outright bad. Is it a good movie? Meh, no I can't quite go that far either. It's just ... OK. For a lesser animation house, that might be a triumph. But for Pixar? That's unacceptable. This studio sets its standards too high to churn out a film like this that reminds the viewer of 20 other movies while watching it.

Oh yeah. "The Good Dinosaur" not only has elements from every other animated prehistoric flick that has flickered across screens over the past 15 or 20 years -- everything from "Dinosaur" and "Walking With Dinosaurs" to your pick of the "Ice Age" movies and the "Land Before Time" movies -- but it also shares movie DNA and outright lifts story elements from "The Croods," "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "How to Train Your Dragon," "City Slickers," "Bambi," and many more.

Of course, it doesn't help that in this same year, Pixar scored with one of the great animated films of the young century in "Inside Out." But it's a bit shocking to look at this film's credits and see five people given "Story by" credit. That means five people basically sat down, rented videos, put their two cents in at plot development meetings, and got a Hollywood check. THEY should be taxed at 90 percent! I'm talkin' full-on income distribution, bay-bee! I'm advocating a complete--

Ahem.

"The Good Dinosaur" follows Arlo (voice of Raymond Ochoa), an Apatosaurus who doesn't quite fit into an alternate world where the fabled asteroid missed the Earth altogether, and we never got an Ice Age or a dinosaur extinction. Millions of years after that non-event (comically portrayed in the opening prologue), the planet is ruled by dinos who have developed the ability to speak. We meet Henry (voice of Jeffrey Wright), a farmer, and his wife (voice of Frances McDormand) who have just welcomed the hatching of their children ... Arlo being the runt of this litter.

Henry tries to teach Arlo how to hunt and farm and trap critters. But he's pretty much scared of everything and is often quite clumsy. Arlo inadvertently causes his father's death and is then separated from his family by a raging river. He makes the long trek back home with a savage human boy (voice of Jack Bright). Together, they survive additional storms, predatory pterodactyls, and lingering trust issues between beast and man.

Interestingly, on this alternate Earth, humans have barely evolved beyond canines. The lone human boy is named Spot, and he sniffs around like a bloodhound, eats like a dog, growls and yaps like a pup, and so forth. It's a premise that is not very well explored, at least not with the same precision and attention to detail and sly social commentary that Pixar has become known for. The film is more interested in repeating the same bits of action over and over again. There are three storms, two flash floods, and Arlo is constantly falling off of high cliffs and overlooks and hitting his head and getting knocked out. There just isn't much "thinking outside the box" here.

The filmmakers seem to think that if they heap enough distress on Arlo, it will qualify as a "serious movie." But it's just an unnecessary bit of trauma to put your littlest ones through. The characterizations here are so thin, that I found myself at times ignoring the happenings in the foreground and drinking in the wondrous backgrounds and vistas the animators rendered on screen. There really are some high-quality visuals in "The Good Dinosaur." And there is one keeper sequence involving Arlo and Spot getting caught up in a crazy cattle drive spearheaded by a T-Rex voiced by Sam Elliott and his son and daughter T-Rexes. When they run across what looks like the American Plains with their herd of cattle, it looks like they are galloping a la "Dances With Wolves" or the old "Bonanza" clan. Nutty, but quite evocative.

Honestly, the five- or six-minute short that precedes "The Good Dinosaur" -- an Indian-themed adventure meditation titled "Sanjay's Super Team" -- has more innovative storytelling and effective emotions than the entirety of "The Good Dinosaur." It may be Pixar's best pre-film animated short in years. Worth the price of admission? No. You'll be able to see it eventually on YouTube or a Pixar Special Collection DVD hopefully not too long after "The Good Dinosaur" becomes extinct from theaters. This rates no better than a 4 out of 10 for me. (T. Durgin)




Reviewed November 23, 2015 / Posted November 25, 2015


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