The year of 2014 was the first in nearly a decade that didn’t feature any motion picture from Pixar Animation Studios. However, the year of 2015 marks the first time that this pioneering studio has released two movies in the same year. The first was Inside Out which signalled the much-awaited return to form for Pixar after the quality slump it went through in the past few years and remains one of their most original, creative & heartwarming works and is absolutely destined to become another Pixar classic. The second arrived just recently in the form of The Good Dinosaur which employs Pixar’s signature thinking process that usually begins with the idea of “what if…” and is a technical marvel in its animation but purely from the storytelling perspective, it’s one of their least impressive works.
Set in an alternate timeline in which the very asteroid that completely destroyed the dinosaurs missed the Earth, The Good Dinosaur introduces a world that’s still ruled by these giant reptiles and concerns an agrarian family of Apatosaurus in which the youngest member, Arlo, is still having trouble adjusting to life plus is unable to perform his duties due to his lack of courage or confidence. But when he’s separated from his family in a strange set of events and finds himself in an unfamiliar territory, Arlo finds an unlikely friend in a human child and takes an epic journey through the wild & lush landscapes to get back to his family. The plot follows their adventure as they encounter numerous perils along the way but through this harsh nature of life in the outside world, Arlo learns to confront his fears and discovers his true capabilities.
Directed by Peter Sohn, who helmed the classic short known as Partly Cloudy, The Good Dinosaur was the brainchild of Bob Peterson who worked on the story for several years before he was removed from the project after being unable to crack its final act. The entire story was then reimagined from the ground up and although this finished product packs in bits n pieces of Pixar’s patented fusion of breathtaking animation with emotionally resonant storytelling that appeals to viewers of all ages, it falls incredibly short of the high standards this studio itself forged over the course of its existence. The story, characters & humour present in the screenplay is more intended at the younger members in the audience, which isn’t really Pixar’s thing, and even though its second half makes up for a lot of previous drawbacks, the overall experience remains sort of underwhelming.
If The Good Dinosaur was the product of any other animation studio, everyone would be raving about its 3D animation but since it isn’t, this particular aspect is easily taken for granted for we expect nothing less than extraordinary computer animation from the studio that is pretty much responsible for the very existence of it in the world of animation filmmaking, and Pixar has always managed to set a higher benchmark in that department with every subsequent feature film. And the tradition continues in their latest entry for The Good Dinosaur is possibly their most photorealistic work to date. There’s just no denying that it’s a breathtaking film to look at for each frame is extraordinarily detailed and every image seems extremely lifelike. But then the characters retain their cartoonish look which, on few occasions, creates a friction with its insanely realistic-looking background.
But all that jaw-dropping work in the animation process is rendered useless by its unoriginal story, in addition to its surprising inability to make us really care for our protagonist. The narrative takes its inspirations from existing classics but is unable to recreate the emotional depth that was so evident in those gems. The rich & colourful landscapes are no doubt enticing but it only sugarcoats a weak plot that was mostly mundane in the first half. The second half does uplift the experience to an extent, especially the final act, but it was already too late for the film to redeem itself. There’s still some wonderful creativity & imagination to be found here, as visible in human roles played by different species of dinosaurs. The humour is childish, voice acting is finely carried out, the background score by Danna brothers is fitting for the most part, and of all the characters, only the human child manages to impress plus he absolutely steals the show.
On an overall scale, The Good Dinosaur is technically accomplished in every sense of the word but it definitely falls short of the storytelling standards we’ve come to expect from Pixar Animation Studios. It certainly makes up for an enjoyable, entertaining & family-friendly entertainment but in the long run, I highly doubt if it will be as cherished as Pixar’s finest efforts. It’s a shame that the scripted tale is unable to take the same leap as its rendered animation, and it not only finishes as the lesser film of the two released by the studio this year but is also more or less destined to find a place in the back benches of the studio’s filmography. An amusing mishmash of ordinary direction, mediocre screenplay, uneven pacing, underdeveloped characters, apt voice performances, stupendous photography, astounding animation, fitting music & slapstick humour, The Good Dinosaur may not live up to its high expectations but it isn’t entirely devoid of the usual Pixar charm and is still capable of putting a smile across many faces, if not all.