Whether it’s to parents, to Andy’s bedroom or to the headquarters of Riley’s consciousness. Pixar movies, more often than not, revolve around physical journeys. Whether these be metaphorical journeys into adulthood or simply into change and new life experiences, we are familiar with following Pixar protagonists as they try to return to the safety and comfort of home. The Good Dinosaur is no exception. Following a devastating loss, timid young herbivore Arlo finds himself alone in the unfamiliar and daunting world. With the help of a feral child, Arlo must find his way home. Similarly to Nemo, our little dinosaur meets an array of different species and characters along the way – learning about courage and fear as he goes. Sadly, where the greedy seagulls or rehabilitating sharks remain in our memories over a decade after Finding Nemo’s initial release, The Good Dinosaur fails to bring enough humour or personality to its limited collection of dino-individuals. “It’s not much good but there is a dinosaur in it” is my favourite tweeted review of the film that I’ve read so far; rather harsh but pretty fair. There’s a lot to like about The Good Dinosaur if you ignore its troubled narrative. The problematic production is evident in the final product which struggles to flow smoothly from one scenario to the next. There’s emotion and heart here but it’s all somewhat stuck together with the cinematic equivalent of paper mache. The Good Dinosaur is supposed to be a coming of age story, set within the boundaries of a road-movie. Yet, its central themes of courage and bravery get lost amongst a plot that seems to lack confidence and forget about its target audience. Friendship, family, loss, fear and responsibility – just some of the too many themes that cloud the film’s focus.
What makes the likes of Toy Story and Monsters Inc so wonderful is the way that they satisfy both children and adults. Here, Pixar have gone too far the other way. I saw The Good Dinosaur in a cinema packed full of four to ten year olds and from start to finish there was the irritating hum of chit chat. There’s simply not enough here to engage children for 100 minutes. Restlessness filled the auditorium rather than laughter. The humour comes in brief bursts with no big laughs in sight. The Good Dinosaur could easily have been directed by Werner Herzog – sharing his bleak outlook on existence and the cruelty of nature. You will be greatly depressed by large chunks of Arlo’s story. I was brought to tears at several points by the easily predictable moments. I just wish there was more laughter and glee to go with the sadness. It’s too slow paced to really entertain its youngest audiences and not intelligent enough to satisfy adults. Arlo and the rest of the film’s characters and beings maintain the typical digital “blocky-ness” that we expect from Pixar’s animation. Meanwhile the natural surroundings are astoundingly realistic. Contrasting these two types of animation is a little jarring at times but ultimately results in a stunning juxtaposition of aesthetics. Visually mesmerizing but narratively muddled, The Good Dinosaur is under extra scrutiny as the follow up to Inside Out, which blew critics away in Summer. There are flickers of charm but its lack of direction and a consistent theme leaves The Good Dinosaur feeling like the awkward second album.
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