The Good Dinosaur: Is Pixar Losing its Touch?
Yesterday, Pixar’s 16th film, The Good Dinosaur, opened to incredibly mixed reviews across the board, something quite new for a Pixar film. Typically, Pixar knocks it out of the park with its films. They’ve been so consistent over the years, most of the time, I hardly bother finding out the actual plot of their next film. I just go to it expecting to be taken away with incredible characters and an amazing, original story. Inside Out was one of those films. Unfortunately, The Good Dinosaur almost fails to live up to the Pixar standard. I say almost because the film does still have some original ideas and creative moments in it. However, for most of the film, it felt unfocused and all too familiar.
The film opens on our ‘what if’ moment. What if the asteroid never hit Earth? What would’ve become of the dinosaurs? A few million years later, we see a brontosaurus couple farming their own land and preparing to have children. Soon, the babies hatch and this is where we meet Arlo, the runt of the litter. As time goes by, the children learn to farm as well, helping their parents. Poppa tries to teach his children that in due time, they must make their mark on the world, but that they must earn it by doing something remarkable for the good of someone else. Both of Arlo’s siblings accomplish this by finishing a major project that is for the good of the farm. For Arlo, it is much more difficult because he has a lot of fear and is sort of a klutz, but his dad never gives up on him.
Poppa gives Arlo a very specific task that will help the farm out; to exterminate a “critter” who has been eating their food supply. Determined, Arlo does his best to succeed and make his father proud. Unsurprisingly, the critter is Spot, the human from the trailer, and Arlo fails his task. His father tries to force him to succeed by taking him into the wilderness to finish the job, but Mother Nature strikes and tragedy is brought upon the brontosaurus family. Time passes, and when Arlo sees Spot again, he blames him for what happened. Angry, he chases Spot and falls into the roaring river, which sweeps him away from his family.
The next morning, Spot has found Arlo and tries to help by bringing food. After they befriend each other, Arlo sets off to return home, knowing he can find it as long as he follows the river. Spot follows along and it is here when Arlo and Spot go on a wild journey together and encounter new characters, both good and bad.
The Good Dinosaur tells a familiar Western story with a Pixar twist. The lost boy is a dinosaur and his pet is a human. We meet other Western characters, each a respective dinosaur, which helps add creativity to the film. In fact, the T-Rex cowboys are one of my favorite parts of the film. But most of the situations Arlo and Spot encounter are pretty typical and unsurprising.
The film does its best to emulate the emotional aspects we’ve come to expect from Pixar, but often times feels like an imitation and falls flat. There are a few times in the film it succeeds, however; the scene we see in the trailer of Arlo building his family out of sticks being one of them. But every other time, the emotion feels forced, as though Pixar is hitting us over the head telling us we need to feel sad during this moment. They do this with the ending, which is obvious halfway through the film. It’s cute and beautiful, but because it’s exactly how you know it’s going to end, it isn’t able to reach that emotional level.
What may be most tragic is the plot seems a bit unfocused throughout and even drags in some parts. This seems to be in part due to an entire retooling of the film and bringing in a new director late in the process. Even though Arlo’s main story is about him finding his way home, there are many times where it seems to move away from that, as if the writers and director kept coming up with new situations they wanted Arlo to experience. Sometimes it works and sometimes you end up asking why was that character even in the film. The film does have a few good funny moments in it, but it is easily Pixar’s least funny film. One thing that makes Pixar so great is its ability to make the audience feel many emotions in one film, but The Good Dinosaur seems to flatline, being more serious with a few jokes added in.
The main ‘antagonist’ of the film is Mother Nature itself. It is always the source of conflict for Arlo, even when it is responsible for bringing other antagonistic characters against Arlo. Since nature was such a major part of the plot, the landscape was essential in the films animation. And thanks to a new way of animating real photos, the landscape often looks so real, sometimes you forget you’re watching an animated film.
With all of this in mind, The Good Dinosaur is still a very good movie. It just doesn’t feel like a Pixar movie. Even though the story is familiar, it is still heart warming and perfect for families. And with the main theme being about family, Thanksgiving week is the perfect time for this film’s release. But with its moderate reviews. let’s hope this is more of a fluke for Pixar due to the behind the screens drama, and not a warning sign that Pixar may be losing its grasp on what sets it apart from every other animation studio out there. After all, we did just get Inside Out earlier this year and it is hands down one of Pixar’s best. But with the upcoming Finding Dory and Toy Story 4, two sequels to films that arguably never needed a sequel, is Pixar turning into just another studio looking to make a quick buck? Time will tell.