PG – 88mins – 2015
THE STOCK WORLD: JURASSIC LARK
Runt of the litter Apatosaurus Arlo (Raymond Ochoa) is continually overshadowed by his more-capable siblings. Determined to teach his timid son a valuable life lesson, Arlo’s farmer father, Henry (Jeffrey Wright), is tragically swept out to sea when a flash flood hits the pair while they are out tracking a feral caveboy (Jack Bright) Arlo let go free.
Burdened by the loss of his poppa and blaming the Neanderthal “critter” for the accident, Arlo finds himself lost in the wilderness far from home. Struggling to cope on his own, Arlo soon discovers that friends come in the most unusual forms, and the unlikely allies join forces to reunite Arlo with his family.
“You gotta get over your fear, Arlo, or you won’t survive out here.”
I think I may have just watched Pixar’s most middle of the road offering to date. While The Good Dinosaur never left me as cold as Cars (2006), at least John Lasseter’s anthropomorphised automobile adventure went to the pains of realising an entire human-less universe for Lightening McQueen to race around. In comparison, The Good Dinosaur feels lazy, like a derivative composite of far more groundbreaking works: The Lion King set in the Croods-iverse.
The influence of the Jurassic Park franchise is also shamelessly blatant, with a “rustlers” in the long grass sequence, and a set-piece where Arlo and his now-christened chum, Spot, must hide behind a log to keep safe from a charging herd while T-Rexes orchestrate their dominance in the background.
An unhinged, hippy-like Styracosaurus (voiced by director Peter Sohn) made for a humorously distinctive diversion along the way, but this ingenuity is undermined later on when the storm-chasing pterodactyl Thunderclap (Steve Zahn) is just as wacky and untrustworthy in characterisation. A “cloud sharks” moment towards the end of the film was a nice visual touch, but feels like too little too late, while a beautiful night-time firefly swarm was seen before in Brave‘s haunting will o’ the wisp lighting effect.
Speaking of aesthetics, The Good Dinosaur is Pixar doing what Pixar does best – the uncultivated, natural landscapes look breathtakingly terrific and I don’t think CG-animated water has ever looked so fluid or real. The blocky character designs, however, detract from the intricate details, overriding the depth-defining textures with a cartoony simplicity. As more big-eyed, colourful creatures crop up on Arlo’s journey, the Croods comparison in the design brief becomes ever-more obvious.
Yes, there is character-building along the way as our determined underdog learns to stand on his own four feet and “make his mark” in the big wild word, and yes, there is a tear-summoning emotional underpinning at the close, but for all its other concessions to exceptional (some, no doubt, due to a bumpy production process which saw compound rewrites and a change of director late on), The Good Dinosaur is just that – and we have come to expect a lot more than merely ‘good’ from Pixar.