Pixar's 'The Good Dinosaur' Is The Cry You Need This Holiday Season
The greatest animated movies dare to go places film cannot, and no other studio has pushed the boundaries of innovation and animation quite like Pixar. "Toy Story" took us to infinity and beyond. "Ratatouille" transported us into the sewers of Paris. "Inside Out" dove into the mind of an 11-year-old girl. Now, "The Good Dinosaur" is taking us to a time when dinosaurs walked the Earth. Except this tale isn't exactly how you remember it.
The film asks, what if dinosaurs never became extinct 65,000,000 years ago? How would they evolve, and most importantly, how would they interact with humans?
In "The Good Dinosaur," we meet a pair of Apatosaurs, Henry (Jeffrey Wright) and Ida (Frances McDormand). They've carved out a cozy homestead, complete with plentiful crops, a dino-chicken coop, a stone silo and the pitter-patter of adorable little dino feet. But Henry and Ida's three children -- Libby, Buck and Arlo -- couldn't be more different.
Libby and Buck grow up into capable kids who pull their weight around the farm, and eventually "earn their mark" -- one of the more conventional concepts found in a Pixar movie -- but Arlo, the runt of the family, is afraid of the world and easily shaken. Poppa doesn't give up on Arlo. Instead, he pushes him, sometimes too far, to overcome his fears. There’s a particularly moving moment between father, son and pre-historic fireflies that will have even the hardest of bros tearing up.
However, after a tragic event turns Arlo's world upside down, he's separated from his family (prepare to cry, guys). Hundreds of miles away from home, Arlo meets Spot, a young human boy who is more animal than person. He's completely wild and fearless, making him the perfect counter to neurotic Arlo.
During Arlo and Spot's long journey home to the Claw Tooth Mountains, they meet a slew of quirky characters, get into some treacherous situations and even come face to face with their own fears. But at least they have each other, right? Here are just a few reasons you'll fall in love with Pixar's latest this holiday season:
It's visually stunning.
Visually speaking, "The Good Dinosaur" is breathtaking. It might be the closest thing to a Hayao Miyazaki film Pixar has ever made. There's so much nuance and detail in every single frame. The world that Sohn and his team has created could dwarf even the largest Apatosaur. The depth of color and the scope of the landscape is staggering. It makes sense that Arlo would be afraid of it. Everything about this landscape pushes the boundaries of animation.
That being said, Arlo, Spot and the rest of the dinosaur characters, in particular, are very cartoonish. It’s an interesting dichotomy that, surely, not everyone will love. Some might find the dinosaurs to be a bit clunky in comparison, but ultimately, this is a Pixar movie, and we think kids will fall in love with Arlo. With his knobby knees, goofy smile and freckles, it will be hard not to.
It's not heavy on the dialogue.
Arlo and Spot don't need words to communicate. That's one of the beautiful things about their friendship. Some of the more memorable scenes in Pixar films are the scenes in which nothing is said at all. That look Buzz gives Woody in "Toy Story 3?" You don't need dialogue to decipher its meaning. After all, not just any studio could have gotten away with the 20-plus dialogue-free minutes that open "Wall-E."
Sohn was inspired by a childhood screening of Disney’s "Dumbo," in which the scene between Dumbo and his mother (when she extends her trunk to embrace him from behind bars) made his own mother cry. Being a South Korean immigrant, she may not have understood English at the time, but she did understand the emotion in that scene.
That same sense of visual story telling inspired a particularly gripping scene in "The Good Dinosaur." Arlo and Spot bond over the discovery that both have experienced lost. Unable to understand each other’s words, they use broken sticks to communicate their feelings. In the end, they both howl mournfully at the sky. Very few words are spoken and yet the underlying sadness is there.
It's not all tears and sadness, though. "The Good Dinosaur" takes a few risks. At one point, Arlo and Spot start tripping on wild forest berries and things get delightfully weird for a few seconds.
It might change the way you think about the Tyrannosaurus Rex.
The supporting characters in "The Good Dinosaur" are a little thin. The antagonists are, for the most, part generic stock characters. A psychotic Pterosaurs does not a compelling villain make. However, T-Rex Butch (Sam Elliott) is a stand-out character. With his southern drawl and surprisingly warm personality, Butch pushes Arlo to face his fears head-on.
It features the saddest death since Disney's "The Lion King."
You will find yourself tearing up in your seat, and there's nothing you can do to stop it. It's not so much the death itself that's heartbreaking, but rather the acceptance in the ill-fated character's eyes.
It has an important message.
"The Good Dinosaur" spells out its message clearly -- maybe too clearly for some. Multiple characters not only lecture Arlo about the nature of fear, but the film's central metaphor also involves Arlo's desire to "make his mark" in the world. In the film, "making a mark" quite literally means signing the family's farm silo with a muddy footprint. Once you prove yourself, you make your mark -- literally and figuratively.
Despite some of its conventional shortcomings, "The Good Dinosaurs" sends a message that's important. Everyone has fear. It's part of life. But you can't let your fears cripple you and stop you from really, truly living.
This is what makes "The Good Dinosaur" stand tall, like a brave Apatosaurus, among Pixar's greats -- "Toy Story," "Up," "Monsters, Inc." and most recently, "Inside Out." It's a story about self discovery, facing (and living with) your fears and ultimately, love.