The one detail that the trailer to PIXAR’s The Good Dinosaur forgets to reveal is that the story takes place a million years after the planet Earth has dodged the bullet. The asteroid that’s supposed to wipe out the life of these giant creatures have caused evolution to take a different direction. Since evolution is allowed to take place “normally,” these mighty creatures developed an intellect to conceive language, domestication and agriculture. They are no longer roaming beasts wandering the land in search for their next meal.
Henry (Jeffrey Wright) and Ida (Frances McDormand) are anxiously awaiting the birth of their three children, Libbey (Maleah Padilla), Buck (Marcus Scribner) and Arlo (Raymond Ochoa). The latter is the runt and is fearful of everything. That includes attempting to tame some primitive looking chickens and Henry decides that he has to teach his son how to deal with confronting his fears. There’s a few Studio Ghibli like moments with Arlo and Henry as they find a field of fireflies, but in what makes this film a sweet watch is the music. This movie is very much a love-letter to the Western, and it shows in the visual narrative and the orchestration.
Sadly, on a dreadful stormy night in the valley, a flash flood sweeps the patriarch away and Arlo never learns how to confront his fears. He’s even more cautious afterwards because of the loss. The survivors eke by, but when there’s an impish hominid raiding the granary, the youngest of the family has to deal with doing away with the thief for good.
The chase goes awry, and both of them are swept away in another swelling of the river. The magic with this film is in its emphasis on how packs, enemies or not, develop their social bonds. Arlo meets a very shaman-like Styracosaurus, Forreest Woodrush (voiced by director Peter Sohn) who offers powerful advice. A symbiotic relationship with all of this planet’s resources and creatures is needed to survive. But not everyone will agree. This movie is surprising with a few graphic bits by two different species who make up the antagonists. Dinosaurs can still go Jurassic upon one another when a conflict develops.
As Arlo and the cave-boy (finally named Spot and voiced by Jack Bright) finally get comfortable with each other, the hominid’s rambunctiousness is infectious to watch. He’s like the alien Stitch from Disney’s Lilo & Stitch; we get to learn that he’s just as displaced. He has no family. The dinosaur and hominid develop a very tight relationship much like this aforementioned film, and their closeness is just as comparable to how Hiccup treats Toothless in How to Train Your Dragon. It’s difficult to see them part ways after the adventure they share. Unlike another prehistoric film, The Croods, which looks at independence and dependence from the family unit, this film relies more on how Arlo comes of age.
Although anthropologists might complain about how this film suggests dinosaurs and early man walked the plains together, that’s a detail only a few will nitpick about. The hominid species evolved later. The movie is fun paced. There are a few 3D moments that work, but it’s more enjoyable as a 2D presentation. Despite similarities with past products, Spot has a place in the world of Disney instead of PIXAR because protectors like him will keep any predator away! The Lion King better watch out!
4 Stars out of 5