Coming off of what was both an emotional and technical high, Pixar’s long-awaited The Good Dinosaur, is substantially less emotional and developed (despite it being pushed back for that exact reason) than one would hope. While it is neither Pixar’s worst, it is far from the sort of quality we expect them to be achieving, especially after the masterful Inside Out.
The Good Dinosaur boasts some of Pixar’s most beautiful animation—at times it is almost photo-realistic—but it only remains so at a surface level. The prehistoric world is remarkably realized; serene fields, majestic mountains and rushing rivers define the world, but for some reason it’s decidedly unpopulated. Arlo and Spot move throughout these gorgeously rendered landscapes in near-isolation; there are no beasts roaming in the fields behind them, nor are there birds soaring through the skies. The film’s major gimmick relies on the fact that dinosaurs are still alive due to the fateful asteroid missing the planet. This means humans are there too, so it becomes questionable that neither dinosaurs nor humans feel part of this world, especially when you only see about five humans in total. It also makes one wonder why it was even necessary to include humans since Spot could have easily been replaced by a dog since he inhabits so many of one’s behaviors—unless there are plans for a sequel.
Pixar is known for creating wonderful, multi-layered narratives that somehow encompass the entirety of the human experience. They are often subtle enough for children to not take note, but adults do, which is why they often feel more fulfilling as you grow older. Comparatively, The Good Dinosaur is decidedly two-dimensional; the big lessons are taught at face value—not much digging is required in able to understand the themes and lessons they are trying to teach.
The lessons being taught are hammered home throughout, especially after Arlo, the young dinosaur, must find his way home with Spot, the feral, dog-like human boy who grunts and squeals his way to the end. It is an entirely cute and charming friendship that grows from bitterness, but the emotional highs feel unearned and rushed, as does the rest of the movie, since it speeds from one significant development to another. Pixar wastes zero time relishing in its pathos, resulting in less emotional impact than most other of their films.
The voice cast is solid, though in the long-run there isn’t much that needs to be said in the film. Other dinosaurs impart their sagely wisdom, while the villains feel more like annoying obstacles with no motives or reasons to fear them other than the film telling us to. Since Spot does not speak, Arlo (voiced by Raymond Ochoa) must rely on speaking to himself or the few other creatures they come by in their journey home after getting caught in the river. Much of the films narrative is delivered through actions, not words, which goes on to support one of its major themes, but it also does so at the cost of emotion and character development.
There are a few moments in the movie that remind us of sheer wonder Pixar can instill in us, and it’s these moments that make us feel like there could have been so much more to this tale. It is a story of friendship, growing up, and making your mark, but unfortunately it lacks much of the emotion, care, and attention that other Pixar films receive. Maybe things would be different had Inside Out not been released just five months ago, but compared to other original worlds Pixar has introduced us to, it remains severely underdeveloped.