Haters gonna hate. This is better than Inside Out.
I said it before and I’ll say it again: Pixar is evolving. I’m kind of getting sick of people comparing new Pixar to old Pixar. They aren’t making the same types of movies anymore. And that’s okay. To say this isn’t as good as the “classics” on that basis, however, seems unfair to me.
This film deserves comparisons to movies outside the Pixar echelon. How to Train Your Dragon comes to mind. The way the friendship between two different species of animals begin is akin to Hiccup’s and Toothless. What about Bambi? Whatever concerns I voiced about the lack of artistry in Inside Out is made absolutely obsolete by The Good Dinosaur. This is a visually lush and stunning film. Hey, I’ll even draw comparison to the good parts of The Lion King (maybe because some of my friends made incessant jokes about it, thanks Ryan). The way the father-son dynamic was handled was well done. Perhaps my favorite aspect of this film, however, is its overall feel, harking back to 30s and 40s animation. It’s, on occasion, dark and scary but on the whole, a slower-paced story that relies more on animation than story to capture its audiences. The Good Dinosaur easily achieves its lofty goals.
As someone who views animation, and even computer animation, like a kid viewing a magic show, I was completely engrossed by its brilliant storytelling techniques. Yes, the film doesn’t revolve around a very complicated plot, but the visual and colorful world it builds is just as captivating. As our main character Arlo, a rubbery green Apatosaurus who gets separated from his family, goes on an adventure to get back home, he meets a plethora of characters and critters that help him deal with his fear of the wild, death, and the unknown. While fear is a topic recently and proficiently visited by Pixar in Monsters University, it has always been a running current in their Toy Story series and Pixar re-visits this theme with a certain characteristic freshness. Maybe its only problem is addressing the theme a bit too directly.
Per usual, Pixar builds all their characters around a partnership, but this one feels the most essential. Simply put, Arlo is dead meat in an admittedly scary and unjust world without befriending a dog-like cave-boy named Spot who is simultaneously adorable and equally ferocious at the same time. I love how The Good Dinosaur handles death. There are many on-screen deaths that occur, and while none take too much screen-time, each one is made important because it establishes the harsh world that these dinosaurs live in. With a prevalent Darwinian “survival of the fittest” attitude, this film portrays an accurate depiction of nature that seems complementary for a movie about dinosaurs while furthering its themes about the fear of death.
However, this is not a grim film. The Good Dinosaur chooses to accentuate the beauty of nature without exaggeration. Its photo-realistic animation works for what it is striving to do–to produce an uplifting film that doesn’t sugar-coat the sad stuff in life. Life is morbid, but you know what, it is also beautiful.
Purpose. Love. Friendship. Family. These are all of the things that Arlo wants in life but doesn’t fully possess until he embraces fear. What I’m really enjoying from the new line of Pixar movies which I’ve personally defined as starting from Inside Out is their emphasis on family. For a genre that has been cemented into the public’s mind as a genre for the family (animation), Pixar is finally making a strong push to make their movies actually about family. The effect is not only healthy and invigorating, but also profound. A great lesson to be had as we head into holiday season.
There are some weird moments in the film–characters who feel like they don’t belong, or maybe accents that feel strange to be coming out of cartoonishly drawn dinosaurs. Whatever the case may be, The Good Dinosaur doesn’t necessarily have an ensemble of characters to charm the audience into liking them. My favorite side-characters were the Tyrannosaurus Rex’s, who take on an unexpected role in the film and reinforce any Western film influences The Good Dinosaur may have started out with. Outside of them, I can’t really cite another memorable character who’s more enjoyable than peculiar.
Still, without the rare scene here and there with certain characters that doesn’t work, The Good Dinosaur is practically a flawless film otherwise. It clearly sets up its goals and accomplishes them. It displays much respect for many different movie and story genres. Is this a coming of age story? Is this a Western? Is this 30s and 40s animation? It’s really an unlikely combination of all of the above that blends stupendously.
I adore this film. It’s sad to think that it’ll go underrated. I think it’s as every bit good as the Pixar classics, despite how different it is. Guys, this film is different. But let’s celebrate that. The Good Dinosaur is more than just good–it’s majestic, gorgeous, heartbreaking, and as close to art as Pixar has ever come.
Final Grade: A (93%)–A strong emphasis on family with renewed touches of darkness continues to define Pixar’s new image while The Good Dinosaur gives us more artistry than has ever been expected from the prestigious studio.