“The Good Dinosaur” was the most plagued production in Pixar’s history. Due for exhibition in the summer of 2014, the release was pushed back twice to November 2015 and the original director, Bob Peterson, was replaced in 2013 by Peter Sohn. After several major script changes (characters dropped, themes changed), most of the original cast was dumped for new audio recordings. There were staff layoffs and the production went over budget.
It is a disappointment therefore to say that the finished film is just not up to par.
“The Good Dinosaur” tells the story of Arlo (Raymond Ochoa), a young Apatosaurus. The asteroid that killed the dinosaurs has missed, leading to dinosaurs still roaming the earth in our present day. Arlo is scared of everything and finds himself stranded with no way to get home. He befriends a young human boy he names Spot (Jack Bright) and journey back.
Some of the visuals of the film are breathtaking, the water looking so real it’s hard to believe it’s CG. The mountains are majestic, the river gorgeous. It’s just a shame the characters look like cartoons from Scooby Doo. To have such detail in the environment mixed with cutesy animals disconnects the audience from the story right from the get-go. Realistic animals or a less realistic environment would have helped immensely.
There are a few tender scenes, such as the moment where Spot comforts Arlo about missing his family, but as a whole, the entire film is missing high dramatic stakes. Nature is the antagonist, but there are few moments of conflict, and it is never as scary as it should be for Arlo’s character development. A few gags fall short, and there are not a lot of laughs either. The film feels off and the rewrites, change of directors, shifting themes and tone all leave the viewer feeling detached. There is just something missing.
It is puzzling why such a good concept was given such poor treatment. The hook alone deserves better. “What if the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs never hit the earth?” There are dozens of different narrative threads from that question that could have been explored. Perhaps man existed alongside dinosaur in society and both needed to coexist peacefully (as in the recently released “Zootopia”). Perhaps there were wars between dinosaurs and man (as in old B-movie science fiction) and the last remnants of such conflicts must learn to work together. Perhaps there are no humans at all, just advanced dinosaurs and the plot involves a segment relating to their world (similar to Monstropolis in “Monsters Inc”). Why then do we have this flimsy semi-Western coming-of-age story that really doesn’t even need to have dinosaurs in it?
Simply, whatever problems plagued the production resulted in a mediocre film despite the time and effort taken to fix it. A great concept went sour. After the critical and commercial success of “Inside Out”, “The Good Dinosaur” indeed looks meek in comparison. The few strong emotional elements and the luscious visuals keep it from being a complete wreck, but, in hindsight, perhaps it would have been best to have scrapped the production altogether.