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The Good Dinosaur Movie Review

The Good Dinosaur: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack cover art
The Good Dinosaur is now available on home video. Read our review of the Blu-ray + DVD combo.

The Good Dinosaur (2015) movie poster The Good Dinosaur

Theatrical Release: November 25, 2015 / Running Time: 95 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Peter Sohn / Writers: Meg LeFauve (screenplay & story); Peter Sohn, Erik Benson, Kelsey Mann, Bob Peterson (story)

Voice Cast: Jeffrey Wright (Poppa), Frances McDormand (Momma), Maleah Nipay-Padilla (Young Libby), Ryan Teeple (Young Buck), Jack McGraw (Young Arlo), Marcus Scribner (Buck), Raymond Ochoa (Arlo), Jack Bright (Spot), Peter Sohn (Forrest Woodbush), Steve Zahn (Thunderclap), Mandy Freund (Downpour), Steven Clay Hunter (Coldfront), A.J. Buckley (Nash), Anna Paquin (Ramsey), Sam Elliott (Butch), David Boat (Bubbha), Carrie Paff (Lureane), Calum Grant (Pervis), John Ratzenberger (Earl)

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Pixar Animation Studios combats claims that they have become too reliant on franchises and compensates for taking 2014
off with The Good Dinosaur, the company's second original film of 2015 and first fall theatrical release since 2004.

Neither sequel nor prequel nor spin-off, Good Dinosaur is not based on anything and that much is apparent throughout. This movie arrives two years after its original announced release date. The delay was the result of extensive creative retooling, a process that entailed a now practically commonplace ouster of the original director (in this case, longtime Pixar writer, Up co-director, and Roz voice Bob Peterson, who remains at the studio, now working on Finding Dory), layoffs of a few dozen employees, and the elimination of most voice cast members who had recorded dialogue. Many movies have overcome high-profile challenges during production, including some of Pixar's more revered works. But, though it may have gotten finished and in time for a lucrative Thanksgiving week opening, The Good Dinosaur never feels like it has conquered its creative obstacles and does not approach the heights of the studio's better works, a class that includes this year's Inside Out.

In Pixar's "The Good Dinosaur", an Apatosaurus named Arlo takes an epic journey with a young human boy named Spot.

The Good Dinosaur is set in an alternate version of Earth where the asteroid that made dinosaurs extinct misses our planet altogether. Dinosaurs continue to roam the Earth and have evolved quite a bit. Our focus is on a family of dinosaurs that numbers five after excited parents watch their three eggs hatch within seconds of each other. The children are Buck, Libby, and Arlo. It is Arlo, by far the smallest and most timid of the triplets, who fills the title role. He is slower to come into his own than his siblings, struggling to take on the responsibilities of this family of... corn farmers.

Assigned to take care of a captured critter, Arlo can't even do that right. He soon joins the ranks of Simba, Bambi, Nemo and other animated protagonists who lose a parent prematurely. He blames the critter -- a human boy we eventually come to know as Spot -- for his father's death, but the young dinosaur and dog-like boy are about to embark on a big journey together.

The biggest conceit here is that in this universe, it is the dinosaurs who are civilized and verbal. Spot is adorably feral, communicating only in the infrequent howl and grunt. The two butt heads as they encounter a variety of creatures: from cuddly critters who are blown out of their molehills for fun to some treacherous Pterodactyls to a family of Tyrannosauruses. The adventure is episodic and routine. The universe is far less rich and complex than any other one Pixar has developed. Even if Cars 2 was a mess and is indeed a worse film than this, at least it had a lot going on. This one is Pixar's thinnest and least imaginative story yet.

Among the dinosaurs encountered by Arlo is Forrest Woodbush, a Styracosaurus whose horns various animals call home.

Perhaps it was only a matter of time that Pixar, who has consistently crammed so much more thought, emotion, art, and imagination into their films than the competition, delivered something lightweight and almost instantly forgettable. Had this come before Inside Out, as originally planned, the decorated trendsetters would only have been subjected to heightened scrutiny and concerns from those old enough to remember a world before Pixar.
Instead, we need only to think as far back to Inside Out, still one of the very best films of the year, to remember that the company is still perfectly capable of producing transcendent cinema that excites all ages. Good Dinosaur pales in comparison to that and practically every other Pixar film. It's a movie that wouldn't strike us as easily the best thing to come out of one of those other less innovative animation houses like Blue Sky and Sony Pictures Animation.

Even so, the film is not without charm. There are a couple of moments of emotional poignancy. The locations are dazzling and almost mistakable for the live-action settings Disney used on their 2000 movie Dinosaur. The trees, mountains, and rivers show us just how far Pixar has come at depicting natural environments. On the other hand, as if to distinguish itself from Disney's photorealistic Dinosaur CGI, the studio opts for a cartoony character design. That old principle of squash and stretch, preached by Walt's Nine Old Men, is very much on display, especially in Arlo, who despite embodying some real anatomical features (like injured knees that won't properly bend) operates a bit more like TV's "Denver the Last Dinosaur" than The Land Before Time's Littlefoot. Pixar has certainly gone cartoony before (see Brave, for instance), but the character design here isn't as easy to love. Spot kind of looks like a reject from The Croods.

Good Dinosaur assigns sole directing credit to Peter Sohn, who has climbed the ranks at Pixar from story artist and production artist to writing and directing the Up-preceding short Partly Cloudy. Sohn is just one of five individuals credited with the story, along with Peterson and Inside Out co-scribe Meg LeFauve, the only one given screenplay credit.

Although timing is on its side, Good Dinosaur seems unlikely to knock LeFauve's better 2015 film from its perch as the frontrunner in the Best Animated Feature race. Disney acknowledges as much by excluding "Best Picture" from the categories for which Academy and guild members are instructed to consider Good Dinosaur. If anything, it might be in Pixar's interests for Good Dinosaur to follow in the footsteps of Cars 2 and Monsters University and be denied even a nomination in the Oscars' animated feature category. After all, dividing the Pixar vote could allow Charlie Kaufman's much-anticipated, decidedly different stop-motion tale Anomalisa to swoop in and emerge as the first R-rated winner of that 15-year-old award.

In "Sanjay's Super Team", the Pixar animated short that precedes "The Good Dinosaur", a young Indian boy imagines Hindu gods as superheroes.

In theaters, The Good Dinosaur is preceded by Sanjay's Super Team, a short film that has better odds at becoming an Oscar nominee. (It's one of ten recently shortlisted for the five Best Animated Short slots.) This tells the story of an Indian boy who is torn away from his beloved superhero cartoon for some meditation with his father. Written and directed by longtime Pixar character designer, story artist, and animator Sanjay Patel, the autobiographical 'toon shines a light on a culture rarely paid notice in Hollywood. I can't say for sure whether its treatment of Hindu gods as superheroes is as offensive as it might seem to some (I'm guessing not, with Disney and Pixar behind it). I can say that the short kind of lost my interest about halfway in. But at least it looks and plays different than the company's other joke-based shorts.

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Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: The Peanuts Movie • The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2 • Creed • Victor Frankenstein
Inside Out • Monsters University • Brave • Cars 2 • Toy Story 3 • Up • WALL•E • Ratatouille
Cars • The Incredibles • Finding Nemo • Monsters, Inc. • Toy Story 2 • A Bug's Life • Toy Story
Pixar Short Films Collection, Volume 1 • Pixar Short Films Collection, Volume 2
Dinosaurs: Dinosaur • Jurassic World • Dinosaurs: The Complete First and Second Seasons
Animated Journeys: Brother Bear • The Emperor's New Groove

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Reviewed November 24, 2015.

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