Disney/Pixar already had what many (including myself) consider one of their greatest achievements earlier this summer with Inside Out, the high-concept story of all the emotions living inside a little girl’s mind. It proved how brilliant and resourceful the team at Pixar truly is. I just assumed, therefore, that their second film of 2015, The Good Dinosaur, which had been moved around and delayed and re-edited quite a few times, would just be a minor work, like those two Cars movies, or Monsters University (which I love but is certainly not upper-echelon). I wasn’t really prepared for The Good Dinosaur to be as moving as it is. It doesn’t aim as high, but it surpasses its goal.
The initial trailers and teasers for this movie made sure to belabor the point that this movie takes place in a world where the meteorite that destroyed the dinosaurs didn’t hit the Earth. That’s really just a way to hammer home “look, dumbos, we know dinosaurs and humans NEVER coexisted, but we have a cute movie to tell that’s dependent on them both being around.” Really, this movie is just a boy-and-his-dog Western story, the kind that got made in Hollywood in abundance back in the day, only dinosaurs are the people living out in the prairie and humans are the wolfs or dogs. That’s literally the only thing dependent on the idea that dinosaurs didn’t die out. From the opening credits sequence where you see a long-necked, rather cartoonish dinosaur plowing fields with his head, you are aware that this isn’t going to depend at all on scientific accuracy, or even “what-if” accuracy.
The story follows a family of dinosaur farmers and particularly Arlo, the youngest son, who is, let’s just put it mildly, afraid of everything. When his father tries to teach him to face his fears by chasing after a critter that’s been eating their corn, a freak storm washes away everything, including Arlo’s father, and leaves him all alone. Alone for a bit, anyway, until the critter, a little human boy, reappears and the two begin a very odd friendship, much more akin to a boy finding a dog. They try to get back home, along the way meeting up with carnivorous flying dinos, a spaced-out hippie dinosaur who keeps animals on his person for safety, and a family of longhorn, cattle-driving Tyrannosaurs.
What I like a lot about director Peter Sohn’s film is that it’s a very simple story told exceedingly well. This isn’t a story that takes too many twists or turns, and it hearkens back to older films they used to make for Saturday matinees, but the characters make it incredibly effective. A lot of this movie is dialogue-free, based entirely on unspoken communication, and so Arlo and the human boy — named Spot — are both extremely emotive in a way that Pixar’s characters always seem to be. Their every facial movement conveys some kind of importance. It’s the huge eyes.
This is an adventure story, and the action sequences, of disaster and dangerous beasts and stampeding creatures and even a snake with arms (hey, evolution went weird without the meteorite), are really exciting and nicely built. The backgrounds and setting look truly amazing, as realistic as any in an animated film, which nicely offsets the decidedly not-realistic characters.
This is a movie for a younger audience, but families will surely love it as well. There’s really only one grown-up joke involving the effects of eating hallucinogenic berries and only minor bathroom humor. This is a wholesome, heart string-tugging, tear-jerking story of perseverance. It’s not as full as some of Pixar’s others, but it’s a really, really good movie.
4 out of 5 It’s Just Raining On My Face Burritos
Kyle Anderson is the Weekend Editor and a film and TV critic for Nerdist.com. He didn’t cry at this movie, YOU did! Follow him on Twitter!