For the last twenty years, Pixar has created some of the most acclaimed and cherished animated films ever made: since the success of Toy Story, the studio has seemingly released hit after hit. Films such as Monsters Inc, Wall-E, Finding Nemo, Up and The Incredibles have had a profound effect on audiences, finding massive appeal around the world with audiences of all ages. There is something so simple and engaging about their animated films that cannot be replicated by any other studio. However, in recent years Pixar has found mixed reactions to some of their titles such as the Lasseter-helmed Cars and its sequel and the much-awaited prequel, Monsters University. Those that doubted the studio would nevertheless be proved wrong with the brilliantly poignant Inside Out, but the troubled production of The Good Dinosaur had many fans worried.
The film is based around a high-concept principle: what if the asteroid destined to eradicate the dinosaurs missed? The simple plot is a trademark of the studio and it has worked well in other Pixar films, for example, Toy Story answers the question of what do our toys do when we are not around? It’s an excellent premise to work with, but overall the concept is not used incredibly well, despite the fact that it was widely marketed in the trailers and promotional material.
The Good Dinosaur follows the adventures of a cowardly and awkward sauropod named Arlo (voiced by Raymond Ochoa), who must reunite with his family after being separated by a storm. Arlo makes an unlikely hero, but his character design seems to be overly-cartoonish, clashing with the well-known “look” of the Pixar films. The film looks less of a photo-realistic animation and more of a Dreamworks cartoon.
It is no secret that the film had a prolonged and difficult production, with the original director leaving the project citing creative differences over the film’s story. And these troubles are visible: despite some brilliantly creative set pieces, it feels disjointed and awkward, certain scenes feel jarring and do not suit the tone of the film. There are moments where the film feels on point: we are treated to a great introduction and scenes that flesh out Arlo’s cowardly nature really do work well, but there seems to be no real arc to the film, a real wasted opportunity because we know how great the studio can be.
The film has the look and feel of a John Ford western, complete with snowy mountains, vast plains and harsh rocky terrain, as is the sound, composers Mychael and Jeff Dana have really gone out of their way to create an authentic western score. Whilst the western tone makes for enjoyable eye candy, it may go over the heads of the intended younger viewers.
Deep down, I think there is a great film buried underneath, but it feels like it has been salvaged from two different films and rushed into cinemas, either to ride on the successes of Inside Out or quite cynically, to have two Pixar films ready for the Academy’s consideration. The Good Dinosaur is by no means a bad film, it’s entertaining viewing but not stimulating or as memorable as it should be.