The Good Dinosaur is a movie. It’s a piece of motion picture media that exists. There, I said it, that’s my review. Well, at least it would be if this movie was produced by almost any other animation studio besides Pixar. But with that name comes certain expectations and when they fail to rise to meet those, well, people can walk away disappointed like I did.
Out of any single studio, whether live action or not, I can’t think of any one else that reaches the heights that Pixar seems to so consistently. Sure, you can argue that Marvel Studios has yet to make an objectively bad film or other production companies like A24 or Annapurna that hit home runs each time they’re at bat, but combining excellence and sheer volume is another thing. Which is why The Good Dinosaur coming off as such a mediocre movie feels that much more jarring.
I touched on this briefly in my review for The Mitchells vs. The Machines where I said that both movies generally have the same major pieces in place but while ‘MvM’ has that unique special sauce to make itself greater than the sum of its parts, The Good Dinosaur doesn’t.
So what are those parts you ask? Well for starters they hit all the usual check boxes. They introduce the world (what if the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs didn’t?), slowly bring in and establish the characters (dinosaurs that now co-exist with humans and other animals that normally would not have been possible), and finally the stakes and crux of the story (Arlo having to go on a journey that’ll eventually transform who he is and allow him to “make his mark” as his father establishes). So then what went wrong?
Well for starters the entire movie just comes off as bland and dare I say it, boring. It’s like if you took the template for “The Hero’s Journey” and gave it to a computer, and it would spit this out. A lot of the decisions for where the story goes and the themes it covers felt like someone was just looking down a checklist of things that need to be added into a movie to fit the bill of a children’s animated tale that has a moral lesson at the end of it. Timid, shy, and weak protagonist ripe for a transformative journey? Check. Tragic backstory that acts as a catalyst to start the journey? Yup. Unexpected companion who starts out as an adversary and slowly turns into the closest of allies? Uh-huh. A series of obstacles thrown in the way unimaginatively? You betcha!
All this isn’t to say the movie is bad, terrible, or any other synonym for those words. If anything it’s something worse, forgettable. It’s so by the numbers generic that I can’t help but think of other movies that do what The Good Dinosaur does but better and would rather watch those. I might make enemies saying this, but it’s like the Five Guys’ Burger place by my house that also happens to be near an In N’ Out. Why would I ever go to eat at Five Guys’ when In N’ Out is right there?
Now before I completely shit on this movie I have to reiterate. It is not a bad film! There are definitely some things it does pretty well, first of which being the animation. Regardless of the quality of Pixar’s movies the one category I’ve yet to see them drop the ball has been their animation. Not only in its visual fidelity but its ability to mimic the tiniest details and make the image feel real, like Arlo struggling to have his legs support himself or the weight of the T-Rex as their massive legs hit the ground when they gallop across an open field. The voice acting performances are also great if a little understated and there are definitely some sweet moments sprinkled throughout that help make this the feelgood movie it was meant to be.
Normally if a movie wasn’t outright bad I’d give some of the silver linings like I have in the previous paragraph and provide a recommendation to watch the movie with certain qualifiers. In this case, even without it being a bad movie, I feel like your time would be much better suited watching the plethora of other quality animated movies (whether Pixar or not) than giving The Good Dinosaur a shake. The only possible reason might be the sheer built up curiosity that you may be possessing after reading this review, in which case, knock yourself out.
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