'The Good Dinosaur': Film Review

Good, yes. But a weak storyline prevents it from being great.

Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand and Sam Elliott lend their voices to Pixar's long-in-gestation prehistoric adventure.

Finally making it to the screen after what has seemed like an ice age’s worth of false starts and creative personnel changes, Disney/Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur emerges as a visually breathtaking work of computer-generated animation that is ultimately unable to compensate for a disappointingly derivative script.

Despite the workable premise, which imagines a world in which dinosaurs have been spared extinction and ultimately can co-exist with humans, the film proceeds to tread an awfully familiar path, liberally borrowing thematic elements from The Lion King and The Jungle Book, among other Disney animated classics.

Following in the footsteps of the truly inspired Inside Out, this year’s second Pixar effort can’t help but feel safely benign by comparison, and although it contains some darker, more intense moments, it will likely skew to younger, dino-obsessed Thanksgiving holiday audiences.

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The runt of the family litter, Arlo (voiced by Raymond Ochoa) is a timid Apatosaurus who’s encouraged by his father, Poppa Henry (Jeffrey Wright), to step out of his comfort zone and make his mark in life.

He’s unintentionally put to the test when his dad is tragically killed (cue The Lion King) while helping him pursue the critter who had been getting into their corn supply. Subsequently separated from the rest of his family, Arlo eventually catches up with the pest, a grunting, growling wild boy — or man cub — he comes to name Spot (Jack Bright).

Their tender, largely unspoken bond serves as the film’s emotional heart and soul as they venture out into those gorgeously rendered wide open spaces.

While the rest of the performers, including Frances McDormand as Arlo’s mom and Sam Elliott as a gruff hombre of a T-Rex, are well matched for their characters, there isn’t all that much for them to say.

In his feature debut, director Peter Sohn, who took over the reins from the story’s originator, Bob Peterson, keeps this prehistoric Western amiably engaging. But while there are some lively departures, including a sequence in which Arlo and Spot sample some hallucinogenic fruits, their episodic adventure tends to stick with the road most traveled.

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Though the tricky third act that originally concerned John Lasseter apparently remained a hard nut to crack for screenwriter Meg LeFauve and numerous story contributors, the production’s photorealistic naturalism is a true bar-raiser.

Those CG-rendered backdrops, taking their visual cues from Yellowstone’s waterfalls to Montana’s grasslands, bring that custom Pixar cutting-edge technology into an exciting, new, wondrous place.

Hopefully next time the storytelling won’t dwell so much in the past.

Production company: Pixar Animation Studios
Cast: Raymond Ochoa, Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand, Sam Elliott
Director: Peter Sohn
Screenwriter: Meg LeFauve
Producer: Denise Ream
Executive producers: John Lasseter, Lee Unkrich, Andrew Stanton
Directors of photography: Mahyar Abousaeedi, Sharon Calahan
Composers: Mychael Danna, Jeff Danna
Casting directors: Kevin Reher, Natalie Lyon

Rated PG, 93 minutes