THE GOOD DINOSAUR. Voiced by: Jack McGraw, Raymond Ochoa, Jack Bright, Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand, and also Ryan Teeple, and Anna Paquin. Directed by Peter Sohn. Rated PG (Mild themes and threat, some scenes may scare young children). 101 min.
This computer-animated fantasy adventure is the first movie made by Pixar after "Inside Out" (2015) which was one of the best movies of 2015. Pixar brought us "Up" (2009), "Finding Nemo"(2003), and "Toy Story" (1995), and this movie, like all of them, has many lovely moments.
In the world of Dinosaurs, Arlo (voiced by Jack McGraw and Raymond Ochoa), the good dinosaur of the film's title, meets and forms a close attachment to a tiny human friend, called Spot (voiced by Jack Bright). The movie depicts an era in which humans and Dinosaurs live together, each knowing their place, well before humans made any serious attempt to assert their superiority.
Arlo is fearful and weak, and his timidity makes meeting Dinosaur responsibilities very hard for him. He doesn't fit into the world of Dinosaurs very well, and he is the under-achiever of his group. A ferocious storm traps him and his father, and his father is swept away in a tidal surge. Eventually, he bonds with Spot, a young, orphan cave-boy, who helps him survive. Arlo is desperate to be reunited with his mother, Momma Ida (France's McDormand), and his beloved family. Derivative of "The Lion King", the death of Arlo's father, Poppa Henry (Jeffrey Wright) has echoes of Mufasa from "The Lion King", and it is Spot who provides the emotional support for Arlo's loss.
Typical of Pixar's technical quality, the animation in this movie is wonderful. It mixes stunning, realistic backdrops with animation in seamless fashion. Fantasy scenes become a cartoon back-drop to extraordinary photo-realistic landscapes and water-images, and the animation strategy works very well. The images are colourful, vivid, stimulating, and dramatic. In looking for good scenery, Pixar is clever enough to use satellite images from Google Earth.
Though not as challenging as some of its predecessors, the richness of its colour and detail are captivating. This is a film that the whole family can enjoy, but it stays less thoughtfully in the mind after the final credits have rolled by. Previously, Pixar has made imaginative movies with universal appeal. This film is also imaginative, but its target audience is more obviously children, though there are some scary scenes. It pays scant lip service to accurate evolutionary history, and stays away from especially deep thinking.
Typical of Pixar, however, the film communicates strong, worthwhile messages. In this film, they are mostly about coping with fear and relating to others, and there is very strong reinforcement of the value of friendship and family. Spot shows Arlo kindness and loyalty, and Arlo grows stronger and more assertive through his friendship with Spot. Animal predators confront Arlo and Spot, and the forces of nature seem to conspire against them.Together, they use their attachment to each other to solve their encounters with threatening prehistoric creatures, and what nature throws in their path. Initial antagonism between Arlo and Spot turns into deep friendship, and the bond between them is depicted tenderly. This is an adventure tale in which Spot and Arlo learn to overcome fear and worry, and they grow emotionally through their friendship with each other.
The movie delivers a sound moral story. Its script is humorous, it is visually stunning, and its core messages about overcoming fear ("you can't get rid of fear, you've got to get through it"), and the importance of family remain firmly intact. The movie maintains the visual beauty of Pixar, but it bypasses the deep profundity of ideas that we saw in "Inside Out" - such as the experience of genuine happiness requires the simultaneous contemplation of moments of great sadness. It is not that kind of movie, but it does have its own very definite rewards.
Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Released December 26th., 2015