Just five years ago, Pixar seemed like they could do no wrong with their films. Apart from the polarizing Cars, every Pixar film seemed to be a modern classic: an incredible mix of comedy, drama, action and emotion.
Recently, however, things haven’t been looking so bright for the studio. After a string of lowest rated films (Cars 2, Brave, and Monsters University), and no film release in 2014, fans may be finding it hard to be faithful.
Pixar came back with a bang this summer with Inside Out, a critically-acclaimed, heart-wrenching story about growing up and the value of having sadness in our lives. Just four months later, with expectations set high, the studio has released another film, The Good Dinosaur.
The Good Dinosaur opens by introducing its promising premise: What if the meteor that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs didn’t hit? In the film, the meteor whizzes by as a shooting star in the night sky and the dinosaurs go on about their existence.
Flash forward millions of years, and viewers meet a family of agricultural brontosauruses, including the film’s protagonist, Arlo.
Arlo is the runt of the family. He cannot complete than the smallest family tasks, and is often terrified by things like small bugs and the family’s chickens.
This fear and lack of accomplishment causes Arlo’s father to give him an important task in which he can prove himself: capturing and killing a creature that has been eating the family’s corn supply.
The creature turns out to be a small human, the equivalent of a wild dog in the context the film. Things go south during the capture and the two end up falling into a river. The main plot of the film begins as Arlo and the human, who he names Spot, try to find their way home.
One of the biggest problems with The Good Dinosaur is that it takes too long to reach the point where the story starts going somewhere. A lot of time is spent on the farm in the first act of the film, and it isn’t until 20 minutes into the film that Spot is even introduced.
For a 100-minute film, having about a quarter of it being setup starts the pace at a snail’s crawl and makes it feel like it was stretched out for time.
It isn’t until the two get washed down the river that the film shows its greatest strengths: the film’s incredible scenery and the relationship between Arlo and Spot.
The journey home takes the two through mountains, valleys, forests, rivers and fields, all of which are beautifully animated. With no cities in sight, shots of the horizon have trees as far as the eye can see. These views are often accompanied by a beautiful sunset or a night sky with too many stars to count. Visually, the film is one of Pixar’s strongest in terms of graphical prowess.
The journey also gives the writers the freedom to explore the relationship between the two main characters, which becomes the film’s strongest point. The two start off as adversaries, but slowly learn to depend on one another as they reach their common goal. This relationship is effectively used in everything from problem solving in the wilderness to very emotional scenes about what it means to be family.
Unfortunately, the excellent writing for Spot and Arlo is not universal, as every other character in the film feels boring and underdeveloped. Characters come and go throughout the journey, but all of them, including the film’s villain, seem to exist only as plot devices.
The film may have been better if it had introduced the characters naturally and developed character growth, instead of forcing static characters into situations.
Unfortunately for Pixar fans, The Good Dinosaur is not one of the studio’s best. Most of what happens in the film outside of Spot and Arlo’s relationship falls flat, leaving a film that weighs itself down with poor pacing decisions and too many unnecessary characters.