“The Good Dinosaur” Review
By: Dylan Hysen
The Good Dinosaur represents the natural conclusion to the first era of Pixar films. It replicates the heartwarming, solid narrative with great animation of earlier films, but loses their magical touch. When you’re trying to replicate past success, with a formula so similar to past films, you inevitably will create a product less special. Pixar’s earlier films were special because they were so unique to animation and film in general, each different in their own way. The Good Dinosaur takes the commonalities behind many of them and attempts to replicate their successes as much as it can. The result is inevitable: a now very generic narrative that doesn’t move past the surface.
This isn’t to say The Good Dinosaur is a bad film. It’s probably fine, “good” maybe even. There’s really just nothing there. The narrative is a series of sequential events that are all slightly charming in their own right. Each presents a surface level interaction between only slightly developed characters. We go from side character to side character in this film, and it moves so fast that there’s never enough time to develop a genuine emotional attachment to anybody besides our lead Arlo. The dad in the beginning, the T-Rex family, none are on the screen for more than half an hour, and none provide us with any emotionally or thematically complex dialogue or interactions in general.
The one possible exception is the dynamic between Arlo and Spot, with pervades for most of the movie. The “boy and his dog” subversion-in-species-only dynamic was at the heart of the film’s marketing, and is kind of at the heart of the actual film. Their relationship was much less substantial than I’d anticipated however, in screen time and in quality. This film is really about Arlo’s journey, and Spot just happens to be along for the ride, rather than it being about Arlo and Spot’s growing connection. There’s almost something emotionally pervasive about their dynamic at the end of the film, but it’s mostly just cliched and can’t rise above the mediocrity of the rest of the film’s narrative.
And really, this movie’s narrative is mostly just cliched crap. The pervasive concept of “making your mark” with Arlo’s family, the “boy and his dog” dynamic of Arlo and Spot, the cliches that the “Coors Banquet Beer” Sam Elliot-voiced dad T-Rex spouts, to the “I’m really kind of sensitive but still macho don’t worry” dynamic that Sam Elliot-Rex has going on, to the “you can do it son and not be such a disappointing wimp” from Arlo’s dad. It’s not just cliched narratively, it’s cliched societally. The dinosaurs all prescribe to heteronormative human gender and family roles and it’s exhausingtly boring. It doesn’t make the film bad, but it certainly doesn’t help an already weak narrative.
The Good Dinosaur really just never does anything special. There’s not one character, one narrative moment, one joke in the film, which I felt intellectually stimulated, even intrigued by. It’s fine if you can mostly turn off your brain for 90 minutes, but I expect better than that from a Pixar film. The Good Dinosaur was an “original” movie in that it wasn’t a sequel but that was the only original aspect of it. If Pixar wants to recapture past success it needs to try for new and interesting narratives, rather than recycling worn ones.