The Good Dinosaur

This would’ve saved John Hammond the time and resources spent in cloning them. Raymond Ochoa, Sam Elliott, Jeffrey Wright and Academy Award winner Frances McDormand lend their voices to Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur.

The Good DinosaurCast of Characters:
Arlo – voiced by Raymond Ochoa
Spot – voiced by Jack Bright
Butch – voiced by Sam Elliott
Ramsey – voiced by Anna Paquin
Nash – voiced by A. J. Buckley
Poppa Henry – voiced by Jeffrey Wright
Mama Ida – voiced by Frances McDormand
Thunderclap – voiced by Steve Zahn

Director – Peter Sohn
Screenplay – Meg LeFauve
Producer – Denise Ream
Rated PG for peril, action and thematic elements

Long, long, long ago the asteroid that would’ve wiped dinosaurs off the face of the Earth just flew on by the planet, sparing dinos of mass extinction and Dr. Ian Malcolm years and years of formulating eccentric doom and gloom theories.

Millions of years later, two Apatosaurus farmers, Henry (voiced by Jeffrey Wright) and Ida (voiced by Frances McDormand) and their three children – Libby (voiced by Maleah Padilla), Buck (voiced by Marcus Scribner) and Arlo (voiced by Raymond Ochoa) – have made a life for themselves with their own corn farm. While Libby and Buck have adjusted quite well to the responsibilities given to them by their parents, an accomplishment awarded with a mud print on the corn silo, Arlo’s timid behavior has made it difficult for him to do the same.

Following a mishap with their silo and an intruding caveboy (voiced by Jack Bright), Henry takes Arlo with him to track the boy down, and if you know Disney – particularly Bambi and The Lion King – you should know that it doesn’t end well for the parent. Angry at the boy for inadvertently causing his father’s death, Arlo chases the boy even further, but an accidental fall into the river leads them both far away from home. Desperate to make it back to his family, Arlo confides in the boy, whom he has now named Spot, as he makes the dangerously unfamiliar trek back home.

The Good Dinosaur is the second Pixar film of 2015, following Inside Out back in June. It’s the first ever time the animation studio has had more than one film released in the same year, though it wasn’t meant to be that way. Conceived around 2009 by Bob Peterson and director Peter Sohn, The Good Dinosaur went through a number of production issues from rewrites to crew and cast changes that would bounce the film’s release date around from the fall 2013 lineup to May 2014, before once again being pushed back again to its final release date of 2015 Thanksgiving weekend. Production troubles and release date changes are never a good sign – just ask Seventh Son and Jupiter Ascending – but it’s not the first time Pixar has experienced them. Toy Story 2, in fact, had its share of production issues, and it’s considered by many to be one of the studio’s better offerings, and deservedly so.

Considering the roadblocks and setbacks The Good Dinosaur faced throughout its production, turning out just good would be quite an accomplishmentIt isn’t at the level of Toy Story 2 or other Pixar champs like the original Toy Story, Up, or this year’s Inside Out that stand at the top of their resume, but it’s still a highly enjoyable adventure.

I have a feeling that like Brave before it, this film’s gonna end up being unjustly slagged for not being “Pixar” enough. Of course, the animation’s the same; in fact, The Good Dinosaur offers some of the highest quality animation the studio’s done to date. You will be amazed at the photo-realistic detail that’s given to even the smallest aspects of each environment presented throughout the story. Even if this doesn’t rank overall with the best that Pixar has done, the animation certainly matches the cream of their animated crop.

No, the difference here is in its narrative. It’s always been said that Pixar doesn’t make movies for kids, but for everyone. This is perhaps the first time they’re making a film that’s geared more for kids, and in this case, that shouldn’t be viewed as a mark against the film. If anything, this is Pixar’s very polished throwback to classic Disney storytelling. Think of this as A Boy and His Dog, except this time it’s A Dinosaur and His Boy… Who Acts Like a Dog. The animation, a combination of extremely naturalistic settings and rounded cartoon-like characters are reminiscent of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Bambi (the ill-fated parent rescuing the child is also a dead ringer). The Western-style journey back home will immediately bring up Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey in many viewers’ minds. The sophistication found in many other Pixar films may not be there, but even though it is aimed more at a younger audience level, it doesn’t pander to them like they’re simpletons.

Yeah, I get it. It’s weird that Apatosauruses plant corn, T. Rexes run a longhorn ranch and the humans act like wolves. But last I checked, my toys don’t come to life, nor does my closet lead to a Monster factory, so a little suspension of disbelief won’t hurt. This isn’t the Discovery Channel.

On an emotional, thematic level, Pixar doesn’t disappoint, even if this time around the themes aren’t as heavy as we’re used to getting from them. Themes such as overcoming fear and the value of family are admirable, albeit simple, topics for the little ones. Not that Pixar is content to take a break from punching us right in the heart like they do best, with the bond that develops between Arlo and Spot packing an emotional punch in a very primal manner. A beautiful scene between the two involving sticks and dirt will be sure to roundhouse kick you with a double dose of the feels.

And if not, that’s okay… but you’re probably the Antichrist.

The voice cast, while featuring some recognizable names, doesn’t stick out in an unnecessarily flash way, which allows everyone to disappear comfortably into their roles. Young actors Raymond Ochoa and Jack Bright (terrific work for what is essentially grunts and growls) do a fine job at carrying most of the film. Backing them up are Jeffrey Wright and Frances McDormand as Arlo’s parents and a perfectly cast Sam Elliott, whose voice is the most instantly recognizable, as the ranching T-Rex Butch. It’s a bit of a typecast role, for sure, but Elliott has fun with it.

All my paychecks for the remainder of the year go to whoever can talk Elliott into voicing the next CoverGirl commercial.

It’s a gutsy move, even from the same studio, to follow up a complex and poignant film like Inside Out, yet though it trades in Pixar’s usually quirky smart narrative for a leaner, simpler tale, The Good Dinosaur doesn’t shortchange viewers of the heart and soul, as well as the stunningly gorgeous animation, the studio is so adept at bringing to life. It won’t go down as one of the best Pixar films, or even their best just this year for that matter, but a second-tier Pixar work such as this still brings plenty to the table to be worthy of the studio’s name.

I give The Good Dinosaur a B+ (★★★).

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