Movie Review: “The Good Dinosaur” – Good, Not Great

Written by Matt Butler December 04, 2015


I think we all need to step back and realize how spoiled we are. Two Pixar films in the same year! As if one every year wasn’t impressive enough. As if Inside Out wasn’t enough! It just goes to show what a powerhouse Pixar is. But after seeing The Good Dinosaur, I’m starting to think Pixar may need to -and I mean this in the most positive and constructive way- take a break.

Set in an alternate timeline where the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs missed, The Good Dinosaur tells of Arlo, a nervous wreck of an Apatosaurus who, through an encounter with a feral boy, is separated from his family. With the help of this boy, whom Arlo names Spot, the two embark on an epic journey home, and develop a reverse boy/dog friendship along the way.


It’s impossible to talk about this movie without comparing it to Inside Out, but I’ll keep it brief. Inside Out is better. I think the more fitting comparison is with Finding Nemo. While The Good Dinosaur has its obvious similarities with The Land Before Time, The Incredible Journey, and The Lion King, the most glaring similarities are those to Finding Nemo. You have the vulnerable and skittish hero (Marlin/Arlo) thrust into a threatening and spectacular environment. They meet their opposite, someone that is wild and uninhibited (Dory/Spot), and over time they form a powerful friendship. They meet a cast of colourful characters that impart valuable wisdom, one of them will have a scar to establish grim experience (Gill/Butch), and go through a series of small adventures that culminate in a great, big life-changing experience.

“Make your mark”

The big difference though is Finding Nemo is a much more cohesive story. The Good Dinosaur is so jumbled in its tones that its hard to tell what kind of emotions you’re supposed to feel. When Arlo is struggling to find food and keeps injuring himself, my initial reaction was sympathy, but the lighthearted music imposes a comedic feel.


There’s also an issue of pacing. Okay, so Arlo’s Dad dies (this would count as a spoiler, but are you really surprised?) and you expect Arlo and his family will have some time to dwell on it, let the moment sink in. But only a minute later, Arlo is thrust into his adventure. Because the aftermath of the death is so rushed, the weight of it subsides way too quickly, especially when Arlo’s quest is added to the drama. Once Arlo’s washed up by himself, it almost doesn’t even matter that Poppa died, because either way, Arlo is separated from his family.

“If you ain’t scared, you ain’t alive.”

And that’s another problem, the family. While it is clear they all care for each other, their connection as a family is focused almost entirely on how much they contribute to upholding the homestead. They each fit the trope roles, (ie. the bullying brother, the hyper-active sister, the mothering mother, and the wise mentor father) but they fail to become anything more. Because of this, Arlo’s return is nowhere near as gratifying as it needs to be. We may understand why he wants to get home, but we don’t feel that compulsion ourselves.


So what’s good about The Good Dinosaur? Well, what’s amazing about it is the production design. The photo-realistic environments of this movie are drop-dead gorgeous. This is a testament to all the hard work that goes into Pixar’s animation and shows just how far they’ve come visually. The backgrounds are so developed that you can almost forgive the movie for its less-developed characters occupying the foreground. 

“I name him, I keep him.”

And don’t get me wrong, The Good Dinosaur has its moments. There’s a very poignant scene of Arlo and Spot bonding that takes full advantage of visual storytelling. There’s another scene where they meet a cuckoo Styracosaurus, who’s easily the most entertaining character in the movie. Sam Elliot voices a T-Rex, that’s a win in and of itself. But really though, the best moments are few and far between. 


The Good Dinosaur plays more like a series of events rather than one big cohesive story. You can tell almost immediately what the lesson will be, and while it’s an important lesson, it’s very rudimentary, especially by Pixar standards. This film went through its fair share of re-writes, re-direction and re-casting, but it still feels a few Braintrust sessions short of its potential. There’s a really smart and affecting story trying to be told here, but much like Arlo, The Good Dinosaur is far too timid to reach for anything greater than what has already been done. I applaud it for its spectacular visuals and calming atmosphere, but the story and its characters don’t provide enough for The Good Dinosaur to leave much of a mark.

My Rating: 6/10


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

About Matt Butler

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is a strapping young English Major with a fiery passion for the art of cinematic storytelling. He likes long walks on the beach and knows the proper use of 'your' and 'you're'. (Example: I hope YOU'RE having a wonderful time browsing our site, and I hope you enjoy YOUR time reading my film reviews. I wrote them just for you.)

Browse Archived Articles by

No Comments

There are currently no comments on Movie Review: “The Good Dinosaur” – Good, Not Great. Perhaps you would like to add one of your own?

Leave a Comment