The Good Dinosaur
The story ain't much, but this might be Pixar's best looking movie yet.
December 19, 2015
In their stories and themes, Pixar often play in the same territory over and over. Generally, they take an object, animal or concept – say a toy, a fish or a car – and instill it with consciousness and emotion. And yet when it comes to visuals, they rarely do the same thing twice. Each new Pixar movie might feel somewhat similar, but they always look different. The Good Dinosaur, the animation studio's latest effort, demonstrates both extremes.
"What if lumbering prehistoric creatures had feelings?" is the question the feature asks, then attempts to answer in heart-warming, lesson-learning fashion. A green, long-necked apatosaurus by the name of Arlo certainly has plenty, mostly of the melancholy variety. As a child (voiced by Jack McGraw), he's worried about his lack of size, strength and skill around the family farm, particularly in comparison to his bigger siblings. A few years later (now voiced by Raymond Ochoa), those self-doubts are put to the test when he wanders far from home and has to find his way back again.
Director Peter Sohn (short film Partly Cloudy) and writer Meg LeFauve (Inside Out) take Arlo through well-worn territory — and not just for Pixar, but for many other animated movies about talking animals. Arlo is forced to face his fears, come of age and survive in the wild, with only a scampering, growling, primitive human boy, who he names Spot (Jack Bright), for company. They forge a connection despite having some initial troubles, and help each other through episodic encounters with other dinosaurs and creatures.
Yes, it's a routine narrative, and it's mostly told as such, hitting all the expected beats. In fact, The Good Dinosaur is the kind of film that will cause your eyes to wander away from the main action — although given the artistry on display around the primary characters, that's a good thing. It's not often that the background proves more engaging than the figures at the centre of the frame, or that the direction makes sure you're noticing that peripheral beauty. Yet that's frequently the case here. The photorealistic details evident in images of fields, mountains, waterfalls, trees and other natural features are the real stars of the show, and provide the picture with a distinctive, eye-catching appearance.
Of course, the film isn't without its other modest pleasures. For starters, there's its alternate timeline, one that sees dinosaurs not only roaming the planet long after an asteroid should've hit, but living an agrarian lifestyle. There are nods to the western genre, a brief but inventive hallucinatory sequence, and enjoyable voice-acting by Frances McDormand, Sam Elliott and Steve Zahn in smaller parts. Like the familiar story though, they simply pale in comparison to the splendour that surrounds them. Sure, the movie might be about a good dinosaur, but what it best serves up is great, gorgeous visuals.
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