Taking The Good Dinosaur with the Bad

Dear Blorgons, welcome to my first true post! Now that the site has the basic formatting set up, it’s time to fill in some content. First thing on the docket is: The Good Dinosaur (2015).

Before watching The Good Dinosaur, I had heard some of the rumors about production difficulties and delays, but I was still pretty optimistic. This is the same studio that has released a string of stellar animated movies, each one pushing the bounds of storytelling and creativity in movie animation. Pixar, the critical wunderkind and eternal house of ideas, has delivered three iconic Toy Story movies, Bug’s Life, Up, Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc, The Incredibles, and Wall-E, not to mention their most recent entry into their great pantheon: Inside Out. I came in with some trepidations, but with the bar so high, there is only so much I was going to temper my expectations.

I have never seen anything like these landscapes. They were definitely the highlight of the movie, and perhaps even the driving force behind production, at the expense of creative storytelling. Source: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures/Photofest

The opening of the film was strong. In the first thirty seconds, we see the basic premise of the movie laid out for us: what if the meteor that killed off the dinosaurs 65 million years ago just missed Earth? And what if a few million years later, the dinosaurs were the sentient creatures capable of speech, agriculture, and emotion? The main characters are introduced, as two brontosaurus frontiersmen watch their eggs hatch and the protagonist, Arlo, and his two siblings are born. Arlo’s struggles as the runt of his litter growing up in an agricultural setting make the story simultaneously relatable and intriguing. He runs from his problems, much to the chagrin of his parents and siblings, all of whom take to the frontier life pretty easily, making the small and weak Arlo feel left out.

What is most notable about the beginning of the film, which is by far the strongest part, is the care and detail that went into developing the premise and the animation itself. Watching the dinosaurs plant their seeds and maintain a farm with their tails, long necks, and lack of hands showed that the creators had really imagined their world completely, making the plight of a family farm less about being a dinosaur and more about hard work and struggling to make ends meet.

good dinosaur firefly
One of the more magical moments of the movie, when Arlo’s father takes him out of the farm to see that there is beauty in the world if he has the courage to face it. Source: disney.tumblr.com

Another strength throughout the entirety of the movie was the animation. Beautiful landscapes seemed to push the limits of computer animation, providing extremely life-like water movements, plant life, and other natural features. The detail was evident in large, panning mountain shots on Arlo’s adventure. Swirling water, angry storm clouds with lightning, fields of fireflies, and wind blowing in the grass were captivating. The simplistic cartoonified dinosaurs seemed almost out of place in comparison. Perhaps the animators worried that a dinosaur as lifelike as its surroundings would be too scary for children, but I almost wonder if the elegant scenery was too much, creating a style break within their own scenes – though, admittedly, that is a fairly minor complaint.

Unfortunately, much of the innovation stops there. The remaining hour and fifteen minutes of the movie had some touching and well-done portions, but most of those were overshadowed by distractingly bizarre moments and a strikingly high number of scenes that felt like they had been lifted out of previous movies.

For the first time I can remember, Pixar did not seem to deliver a story from scratch, but seemed to have taken a hodgepodge of “tried and true” story elements and lumped them together.

The most notable parallels were with the Lion King. *Spoiler* The emotional loss of Arlo’s father, swept away by a rampaging flood right after tossing his son to safety, was very similar to Mufasa’s iconic death scene. Arlo blames himself and ends up swept away on a path of self-discovery with his pet human, Spot. The Lion King parallels continue throughout the movie, as Arlo encounters three Archaeopteryx/raptors who are direct copies of the hyenas from the Lion King. It felt like even their lines were the same. They even had a “look to the stars” scene where Arlo hallucinates that his dead father is giving him guidance. This is after he’s fallen into a bramble patch – just like Simba.

good dinosaur lion king
The ciiiiiiiircle of life! Given new meaning to recycle old plot points in the Good DinosaurSource: disneypixar.tumblr.com

The remaining plot elements were either stolen from Finding Nemo, Ice Age, or were so bizarre that I’m surprised they made a final cut. From Finding Nemo, the young runt is trying to find their way home, the T-Rex that gave Arlo was basically Gil from the fishtank, and even the pterodactyls were similar to the gulls in their desire to eat the main character’s friend. The reversal of speaking animals (in this case, dinosaurs) with grunting humans seemed like a copy from the Ice Age, whose original premise involves returning a pet human to its grunting prehistoric tribe.

But the worst part is that all that was left to make the story unique were its weird quirks that just didn’t quite work. The strange acid trip scene from fermented fruit, the unexplained neurotic triceratops, and the pterodactyls cult-like obsession with the storm. There may have been potential there, but the jokes either fell flat or were too outlandish to really resonate with the audience. I had a whole bunch of other questions that were never answered: where were all of the other dinosaurs? Why do there seem to be only ten dinosaurs in the entire world? And why do dinosaurs not eat each other? Do they only eat mammals? Why are humans acting like dogs? Couldn’t they be grunting and presume that communication with the dinosaur wasn’t working without Spot howling to the moon and panting?

Overall rating: this movie had real promise and some truly magical moments, but there were too many borrowed plot points and cheap tricks for this movie to get a coveted Blorg! Blog endorsement. This movie is worth a one-time view, as long as you temper your expectations and focus on the landscapes. With likable protagonists and an intriguing premise, it’s not a bad movie, but it doesn’t live up to the usual Pixar level of excellence. The primary rewatch value is for young kids who don’t mind formulaic stories and won’t notice the weaker points in the plot.

Rating: 6/10



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