Pixar are a victim of their own ingenuity. Having released some of the defining animations across the past two decades, with an inclination for innovation, anything less than ‘phenomenal’ feels somewhat underwhelming. Their latest picture The Good Dinosaur falls into that very trap, as while being an affable, moving piece of cinema, debut director Peter Sohn plays it a little safe, in a more family-orientated, simplistic narrative which affectionately abides to the tropes of the genre at hand, and follows every single beat.
We’re dealing with a premise whereby the asteroid that hit Earth all those millions of years ago, which made dinosaurs extinct, just so happened to miss. Now, with primitive human beings now inhabiting the planet, we see how relationships can be formed between the species. The intriguing thing is, we take the perspective of the dinosaur – the only one able to formulate sentences.
The Apatosaurus in question is Arlo (Raymond Ochoa) who struggles to live up to his older siblings Buck and Libby. Awaiting his chance to impress his parents Momma (Frances McDormand) and Poppa (Jeffrey Wright), tragedy strikes when the latter is killed during a tempestuous storm. This all begun when the pair started following the creature who was stealing their crops; the human child Spot (Jack Bright). So when Arlo is confronted with the boy once again, he chases after him, only for the pair to get lost, with no idea how to make it back home.
With shades of The Lion King, Finding Nemo and even Bambi in how our protagonist is physically presented, Sohn’s endeavour feels like an amalgamation of classic animations with little subversion. Even the leading friendship which this title is based on plays on the very same themes we see in How to Train Your Dragon (albeit in reverse), using Arlo and Spot’s association as a means of expressing our own relationship with our pets, to help form the emotional connection with the piece. But for any misgivings in the narrative are allayed thanks to the breathtaking visual experience this title offers. From the hallucinogenic sequence when the leads eat some gone-off fruit, to the scene where they’re running into a flock of birds – or illuminating the ground when Arlo swishes his tail in the grass – it’s arguably Pixar’s most visually ambitious yet.
In spite of that, Arlo does appear looking a little cartoony, cheapening the photorealistic use of CGI making up the backdrop, but it’s emblematic of a film that is aimed at a younger crowd, more akin to the likes of Cars than it is to Wall-E. However, for any sense of unfulfillment that may exist, The Good Dinosaur is a touching, stirring tear-jerker that will almost certainly make you cry.