If all had gone according to plan, Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur would have hit theaters a few months after 2013’s Monsters University, but the studio’s decision to completely jettison the original story and essentially start from scratch delayed the project two years. Based on the finished product, that extra time didn’t actually go into creating a coherent script, though– and instead was devoted to giving the artists the opportunity to create absolutely mind-blowing visuals.
Chronicling the tale of Arlo, a young brontosaur who has to find his way back home after he’s swept downriver, The Good Dinosaur is full of strange, generally incongruous moments. Along the journey, Arlo partners up with a feral boy named Spot, has to escape pesky pterodactyls, meets really quickly with a weird Styracosaurus, and then joins a trio of cowpoke T Rexes to herd prehistoric bison. All those moments combine to form a story that’s as herky-jerky and odd as it sounds.
Visually, The Good Dinosaur is the most artistically dichotomous of any film in Pixar oeuvre. In the past, characters and art were melded perfectly into a magical world (picture Lightning McQueen kicking up dust in the Radiator Springs desert or WALL∙E drifting through space), but there’s a severe disconnect on display in The Good Dinosaur.
Arlo looks more like something from Aardman’s cartoony stable than anything Pixar has given us before. In and of itself, there’s not a thing wrong with that, but when Arlo’s goofy, exaggerated features and spindly legs are seen against the most photo-realistic backgrounds of any animated movie ever, the film’s look is comparable to someone slapping a Mickey Mouse sticker on a (3D, full-color) Ansel Adams print. Two incredible sequences involving fireflies (rivaling the paper-lanterns scene from 2010’s Tangled) are magical and beautiful in the moment, but then we go right back to the goofiness of bug-eyed creatures tripping over their own feet.
At its core, The Good Dinosaur has its heart in the right place, teaching the value of confronting fears and the importance of family, and not one bit of the kooky plot or bizarre artistic choice will matter a hill of beans to the kids in the audience, who will giggle at Arlo’s pratfalls and chew their nails a bit during some fairly intense storm scenes. But adults in the crowd may continue to wonder (as with this summer’s disappointing Inside Out) what’s going on in Pixar-land and how long it will take to get back to the salad days of The Incredibles and Finding Nemo.
Next summer’s Finding Dory would certainly be a logical place to start.
Worth the 3D glasses?
Absolutely, if only for the firefly sequences. The 3D may be a bit much for the youngest in the audience–particularly the intense storm scenes–but overall, Pixar has never had a problem justifying the use of 3D, and The Good Dinosaur is no exception.