What if toys could walk, talk and had a world, infrastructure and politics of their very own, unbeknownst to us mere humans? What about fish? And cars? And emotions (yes, like The Numbskulls, shush). And now, what about dinosaurs? It’s not quite The Land Before Time but rather The Land Instead of Time as We Know It, depicting an alternate reality in which the Earth-altering asteroid missed our planet entirely and dinosaurs still reign as the superior species.
Arlo is the good dinosaur in question – the runt of a litter in a family of farmer dinosaurs (just run with it), making ends meet by harvesting corn and keeping chickens, for some reason. In a story which takes on shades of Finding Nemo, The Lion King and Ice Age, Arlo is separated from his family, after Dad dies in a terrible storm (Disney hates parents, remember) and he is washed miles down the river, with only a feral human child for company.
It’s a familiar Pixar narrative – a main character, lost and trying to get home through an unforgiving, dangerous landscape, under attack from less friendly dinosaurs and emotions. In the case of Arlo, it’s Fear who’s running the show here. Unfortunately, while the rest of its Pixar predecessors (and rip-offs) tend to get by on wit and inventiveness elsewhere, The Good Dinosaur is surprisingly average. It’s not that the jokes fall flat – rather, there’s almost a complete absence of them, with the characters not original or defined enough to fill the void. Where the audience should be blubbing, we’re left feeling cold, the characters failing to elicit much beyond indifference (maybe they’re saving her for Inside Out’s sequel). Even Disney’s usual infallible dead dad gambit doesn’t work, Poppa bearing more in common with Man of Steel’s asshole Pa Kent than noble old Mufasa, (Lion) King of the Disney dead dads.
It’s faultlessly gorgeous though, particularly in its landscapes and action sequences. The cartoon dinosaurs (think Dino from The Flintstones) sit oddly against these photo realistic backgrounds, but they work better than the more detailed Dinosaur (an otherwise better film), all gangly limbs and primary colours. The visuals and creature designs are by far the film’s strongest point, making even the duller moments a joy to behold.
Watch on Blu-ray if you can, on a TV as big as possible. That Blu-ray will come with a ton of special features, most notably being the short Sanjay’s Super Team, which is better than the main feature itself. Kids and dinosaur nerds will enjoy the dino-heavy documentaries and making of featurettes, all of which make for genuinely fascinating viewing.
The Good Dinosaur has its moments of Pixar brilliance – Steve Zahn as the film’s villain, and Peter Sohn as ‘Pet Collector’ – but those moments are few and far between. It’s fine, but nowhere near the standard we have come to expect from Pixar by now. But then, The Adequate Dinosaur doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.
THE GOOD DINOSAUR / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: PETER SOHN / SCREENPLAY: MEG LEFAUVE / STARRING: RAYMOND OCHOA, JACK BRIGHT, SAM ELLIOTT, ANNA PAQUIN, STEVE ZAHN, FRANCES MCDORMAND / RELEASE DATE: 21ST MARCH