What if a meteor never hit the earth and destroyed the Dinosaurs? What if they still existed today? What if they had human-like qualities and the humans were more animalistic? That is how Disney/Pixar marketed their newest release, The Good Dinosaur. Interestingly enough, those themes play a small role in the grand scheme of the overall movie.
Arlo (Raymond Ochoa; A Christmas Carol) is one of three sibling dinosaurs. The "runt" of the litter, he is small and afraid and has never made his mark in the family. Poppa (Jeffrey Wright; The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I) is afraid he never will, so he plans a test for Arlo. They set a trap for the critter, Spot (Jack Bright; Monsters University), eating the family stock of corn, and Arlo is to keep watch and kill Spot when it gets caught in the net.
Of course, when the time comes Arlo can't do it and Poppa and him end up chasing Spot to the mountain where Poppa meets his untimely demise. Arlo, feeling partly responsible tried to help his Momma (Frances McDormand; Burn After Reading) harvest the corn only to end up in the river, and lost in the wilderness, scared, hurt, alone, and far from home. Destined to go on a wild adventure as he journeys home, he is aided by none other than Spot. As Arlo learns to make his mark, he and spot turn from enemies into a family, and (spoiler alert) Arlo returns home as the dinosaur his father always knew he could be.
The actors are pretty good and well-cast. I always enjoy Wright, and his voice talent, as Poppa is no different. He has a certain quality about him, whether, in person or vocally, that tends to simply be calming. Ochoa manages to inflect enough emotion into Arlo to make his various emotions seem genuine. Bright as Spot does a really great job portraying emotions, especially considering his character doesn't speak other than to bark and howl throughout the film.
The plot is nothing special, but simply more of the same Disney fair we have seen in recent years. In fact, out of everything the movie has to offer, the storyline is perhaps the weakest link. I had momentary flashbacks to the Lion King at times and in one scene couldn't decide if I was watching a very funny game of "whack a mole" or the Star Trek episode "The Trouble with Tribbles".
The real star of this film, though, is the scenery. I was struck by how realistic the animation was when there were wide sweeping shots of the mountains, the grassy valley, and the winding river. It was almost awe-inspiring and made me long to take a trip to the western part of the United States. The animators who worked on the background should be proud of their job well done.
As with many Disney films lately, this one opened with an animated short entitled "Sanjay's Super Team". Directed by animator Sanjay Patel, the brief film explores a young boy's boredom with his father and meditation, and his wild imagination pertaining to superheroes, all the while infusing a hint of humor to the story. It was visually vibrant and engaging, with an underlying tone of love, family, and the bond of a young boy and his father. This was one short I wouldn't mind seeing again.
Of course, the timing of The Good Dinosaur is no coincidence, as Disney/Pixar knows families will be headed to the theater this holiday weekend. If you are one of those adults looking to take the children in your life to a movie, this one isn't a bad choice, but don't be surprised when you walk away with the feeling of Déjà vu. It won't be an instant classic, but it is a good effort on the studios' part. I give it three howls out of five.