For over 20 years now, Pixar have been teaching us. Whether it’s about our own relevance (Toy Story), mortality (Toy Story 2) or the crippling effects of grief (Up), the studio that brought us the Luxo Lamp have always excelled in weaving a tale around examining something about ourselves. The Good Dinosaur is no different in it’s theme of dealing with our fears.
The opening sets the scene for the new world we’re about to explore. The meteor that caused the extinction-level event, wiping out the dinosaurs, misses out blue planet. Aiming firmly for the younger audience, the running time is kept trim and we're introduced to the family of Apatosauruses. They’re a little jarring at first. The shots up until this point are lush with beautiful detail. The kind of textures and colours that no real-life magic hour would ever give a bona fide lens. So when the cutesy and simply designed family of dinosaurs are working their way around a farm, like living cranes and combine harvesters, you may forget it said “Pixar” or “Walt Disney” on the titles.
The production of The Good Dinosaur was laden with re-writes, re-jigging and the release of the original director during production. So any misinterpretations are put down to an 11th hour remake of the film. However, it does seem that not only did a better film hatch it's way out of the original's shell, but perhaps a reappraisal has given The Good Dinosaur a greater value. So where a slap-dash approach to character design seemed the easier answer for a somewhat cute look for the protagonist, Arlo and his family, for some it’s a deliberate approach. How much would you worry about a fully rendered Dinosaur CTRL+ALT+C’d straight from Jurassic Park? The answer is; you wouldn’t. Although you do not always empathise with Arlo’s fears, the fact that he looks vulnerable makes you fear FOR him. When he proverbially puffs his chest out, it’s all the more victorious.
What could be The Land That Fully Rendered Characters Forgot, actually becomes a journey of genuine threat and peril. No sooner are we out of the frying pan that we are thrown unawares into the prehistoric fire. There’s religious pterodactyl zealots, dangerous river crossings and tornado-like storms. It’s not all doom and potential danger though. There are some of the most genuinely crafted laughs here that haven’t given in to the slap-stick routine of Ice Age. There’s an off-kilter, shamanic triceratops, not to mention the trippiest hallucinatory scene this side of a "U" rating.
For all it’s smarts, beauty and craft the real triumph for The Little Dinosaur is how it contrasts and yet gives a real reason for the two main characters to bond. Arlo the Apatosaurus and Spot the feral cave boy are probably the two most unlikely co-stars ever. Yet Pixar manage to naturally entangle them in the narrative, make you care about them and be invested in their journey.
There’s always a certain amount of manipulation when a movie makes you care, but not only does The Good Dinosaur get you more in the feels than any other movie (let alone animated!) has for a long, long time, it does so without it ever undermining itself with a cheap shot. A poignant moment that shows a heart breaking understanding between the two protagonist is done with a few sticks and a circle drawn in the sand – we guarantee there will not be a dry eye in the house.
So, what’s the lesson being taught in this particular Pixar picture? Well, what could be seen as a simple tale of how to overcome your fears, it’s actually a masterclass in the realisation that fear is not always something that needs to be overcome and is probably just as important as courage.
4* - Jurassic Arc