The Good Dinosaur is the latest film from Pixar studios, released in the US and around the world on November 25, 2015.
The setting is an alternate universe where Earth wasn't hit by a meteor 65 million years ago, allowing dinosaurs to remain as the dominant life form. In modern times, they have evolved a
high level of intelligence, though their quadrupedal status appears to have limited the development of technology. As for humans, Homo Sapiens are no more than primitive, simple minded cavemen, considered pests and "critters" by the dinosaur characters.
The story focuses on Arlo, a timid young apatosaurus living on a farm in Colorado. He gets washed away in a flash flood, and ends up stranded hundreds of miles away from his family
with only a young human boy as company. In proper kid's movie fashion, the two start out as antagonists but end up learning to work together and care about each other as they journey home.
The most immediately noticeable aspect of the film is the visuals. Pixar has long been on the cutting edge of CG animation, and The Good Dinosaur is no exception. The backdrops of rural Colorado, with the Rockies towering above deep canyons and endless pine forests, are breathtaking. Many shots are almost photo realistic, featuring some of the most advanced landscape and scenery rendering we've seen on screen so far. The beauty of the backgrounds must be seen to be believed!
The characters, however, are a stark contrast to the photo perfect landscapes. All of the dinosaurs are extremely stylized, with cartoonish bodies and faces that look more like Dino from the Flintstones than any real saurian. The human boy, Spot, fares a little better, but is also quite unrealistic looking.
This wouldn't be a problem if the backgrounds weren't so meticulously rendered. Brightly colored, plastic skinned cartoon characters walking around against a backdrop of mountains
and trees that are barely distinguishable from the real thing is jarring. The effect is a toned down version of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, where colorful toons interacted with live action
sets. In this movie it's distracting, and I never got used to it.
The story is fairly standard fare about two very different people who learn to understand each other through shared adversity. There are some touching moments, but nothing that inspired the tears that Pixar is famous for. It doesn't help that Spot is basically a dog in a human's body, including lacking the ability to speak at all. Come on, guys, even the real dogs got to talk in Up!
The genre of the story was a bit of a surprise as well. This film is basically a western, complete with a rural farm on the prairie, T-Rex cowboys, Velociraptor cattle rustlers, and Pterosaur bandits. The only thing missing was a sheriff and a shootout! To give credit where credit is due, "dinosaur western" is a fairly unique concept, so props for taking an established genre in a different new direction.
Overall, The Good Dinosaur is one of Pixar's weaker movies. It's a nice, cute family film with a good message of friendship, family, and responsibility, but it doesn't come near the emotional depth of some of the previous films. The best part by far are the gorgeously rendered backgrounds, which I can't wait to see in HD. I would happily take the characters away and watch the entire thing as just an hour and a half of backgrounds accompanied by music!
I would rate this film 3 stars out of 5. It's a good addition to a children's library, and is worth a watch once it hits Netflix and Redbox. Probably not worth the cost of a trip to the theater unless you have kids.