I’m a big fan of Disney. I grew up on the classics, and although the traditionally animated films will always hold a special place in my heart (Hercules, Aladdin, et al.), the computer animated films have proven capable of also conveying “Disney magic”. Inside Out, which was released earlier this year, took the number one spot on my Pixar movies list, so I was excited to see what The Good Dinosaur had to offer, and I gotta say, while it wasn’t exactly a disappointment, it gave me an overall feeling of “meh”.
The Good Dinosaur is good at humour. There are many parts that will make you smile and laugh, and the kids in the theatre thought the slapstick stuff was hilarious, and I can see why. On top of being a movie about dinosaurs, which is already awesome in of itself, this is a very entertaining film about two clumsy friends trying to get back home.
The main plot of this film should be relatable to kids, as being lost and separated from their family is a poignant and legitimate fear for them. The main theme/moral of the story is also about conquering your fear, which kids can also relate to.
At its core, the film is about two companions on a journey. Whether a child interprets this as two best friends or a kid and his pet (dinosaur and his pet?), it is an effectively charming premise.
There are two flaws preventing The Good Dinosaur from joining the ranks of Inside Out and Toy Story.
The first is the lack of supporting characters. I understand the film is focusing on the relationship between Arlo and Spot, but one can’t speak and the other is a dinosaur, both of which are difficult to relate to. Yes, there are other characters, a Styracosaurus, a T-Rex family, and some gangster Pterodactyls, but the first two are one-offs, and the latter is only antagonistic fodder.
Perhaps the problem of “lack of characters” is actually a “lack of interesting characters”. Most of Pixar’s hit movies feature a memorable duo after all, from Woody and Buzz to Mike and Sully, so why doesn’t Arlo and Spot feel the same? Other than being difficult to relate to, I think it’s because they are too one-dimensional. Woody had to deal with being replaced by a newer toy and not being Andy’s favourite anymore, while Buzz faced the revelation that he was nothing more than just a toy. Both of these characters have an issue that is way more complex than Arlo’s and Spot’s. You can find a similar pattern amongst the more memorable Pixar protagonists. They aren’t just trying to go home or get something; they are dealing with something distinctly human and complicated, and that’s what makes them interesting. Arlo’s cowardly nature is too simple and broad to make him stay in our hearts.
The other shortcoming of The Good Dinosaur is the ending. It was stated early on that the death of Papa meant it was unlikely the family would have enough food to survive the Winter. This problem has not been solved by the end of the film. Instead, the audience is supposed to be left on a happy note by the fact that Arlo made his mark by finally facing his fear. But what good is that if you’re gonna starve to death?! Yes, this may be a little detail that perhaps a kid’s movie shouldn’t have to worry about, but Disney and Pixar have raised themselves to a certain standard after all these years, and this film’s ending feels like an amateurish oversight and/or a lazy wrap-up.
I will fully state for the record that I am aware of my position as a male adult being critical of a child’s movie. However, I don’t think this nullifies my opinion. Adults can and have enjoyed Toy Story, Monsters Inc., The Incredibles, and so on. I don’t think they’ll enjoy The Good Dinosaur in the same way. It is lacking that Disney magic we all seem to know when we recognize it, yet it is difficult to define.
After thinking about why The Good Dinosaur felt like it was missing something, I’d like to offer a possible definition for “Disney Magic”. Disney Magic happens when, while watching a Disney movie, a child feels like an adult and an adult feels like a child again. I put it this way because the strength of Disney movies is that it can simplify difficult and complex life lessons in a way that even children can understand and accept, all the while making us laugh. While The Good Dinosaur is trying to teach a life lesson, there is something lacklustre about its method, in part because of the things I mentioned above. The characters just aren’t that interesting, and too much time was spent trying to hammer home the fact that this was a film about getting over your fears. It also doesn’t work in the film’s favour by presenting fear as the overarching theme and then spending a majority of the movie depicting happy fun times between Arlo and Spot. Because of this, the film overall identity is fractured and the Disney magic has seeped through the cracks.
If you’re a fan of Disney/Pixar, I would recommend The Good Dinosaur, just don’t go in expecting the next Toy Story or Monster’s Inc. This is more like a Wall-E or a Cars 2. It passes for a Disney movie, but it’s more or less forgettable.
It is definitely a charming movie for kids. I suspect most children will enjoy this film even if solely for the idea of a kid and a dinosaur going on a wacky adventure together. Every adult will surely get a laugh out of “fruit scene”. For now, I’ll be waiting for Zootopia.
This has been a gamobo review.