I ask two things of any Disney/Pixar film. Make me well up and make me feel like a child again. The Good Dinosaur does these two things and whilst it may have been flawed on a storytelling level. I found it deeply satisfying – indeed more satisfying than Inside out. Sue me.
Any other day I would have called this film lazy and accused it of cannibalizing works more superior but no, the moves this film makes, however unoriginal, still tugged at my heartstrings. To be honest, I was in the best possible position to really enjoy and be gripped be this film. Prior to the screening of The Good dinosaur, I had seen this YouTube mash up of the most moving scenes and shots from Bambi, The Fox and the Hound and The Lion King. The sound track to this YouTube mash up of childhood heartache was Gary Jules’ cover of Mad World. I cried myself to sleep that night.
The Good Dinosaur truly is a sweet tale friendship that tries its best to toe the line and spirit that made the past Disney Classics so memorable – bonds and relationships. We have here lost bonds, broken bonds, shaped bonds and renewed bonds. I could see this plot unfold from mile away but I didn’t care. I just love the feelings the film left myself with. Anyone familiar with the Disney back catalogue will recognize riffs on a number of the classics. The Lion King tops this list with nods to the three Hyenas among others. There’s some Jungle book in there too and that’s basically what this film does but whilst that is ordinarily a bad thing, it scores points on the sentimentality spectrum.
The Good dinosaur depicts a more dinosaur friendly period in time where they were not wiped out by a fiery asteroid — as shown in the teasers for this feature. The dinosaurs have survived and done well for themselves. They till the land, rear livestock and are pretty much cast in the agrarian mould — even the dreaded T-Rex appears to have shed the cold-blooded viciousness for a cowboy lasso. Quite the preposterous but charming conceit. Not only is this a more friendly period in prehistoric time but we also happen to be in the prehistoric American south which isn’t surprising given the agrarian setting but the sight of American south sounding T-Rexes was immensely amusing.
At the centre of this prehistoric agrarian society is a family of green, long-necked dinosaurs with the young Arlo (voiced by Raymond Ochoa) and his parents, Poppa (Jeffrey Wright) and Momma (Frances McDormand) serving us some nuts and bolts as the film rushes towards a tragedy that will kick start our young protagonist arch. Arlo is a kid with the anxiety and fear issues evidenced by his fear of feisty poultry. His dad thus tries to teach him the importance of bravery and making a mark. We know he’ll get his chance to make his mark and it comes when he finds himself washed away by a violent rainstorm that sends him downriver miles away from home. He runs into a friend cum foe in a human child channeling Feral Boy from Mad Max 2.
Arlo and this petite Neanderthal have some bad blood but again we can tell how their relationship is going to play out but the film does well to rope us in and gets us to buy into their relationship. This fierce feisty boy stands by a frightened Arlo and their antagonism slowly morphs into friendship. They are quite distinct personalities. Arlo is the bigger but lanky and feeble proposition – think Bambi. His tumbles and jarring falls actually elicited a quite visceral reaction. If Arlo is Bambi, Feral Boy or Spot, as he is later christened, crawls around on all fours growling and baring his teeth and sometimes using them – think, a rabid Mowgli.
It’s funny how the film presents Spot like Arlo’s pet as they make their way to Arlo’s home. He even has a dog name straight from the 90s – “Spot”. Man is the dinosaurs’ best friend here. The film goes on to earn the relationship it establishes between the two and elevates them beyond the onscreen characters we see in tender setup that sees them convey their individual sorrows using just sand and sticks – an important scene that establishes them as equals and overcomes the limitations of cross species boding despite the whole owner – pet quips.
Their journey is quite eventful and they run into a few amusingly unhinged characters along the way and there’s even the standout encounter with some special berries that leaves our two heroes in a comically high state but the visuals on show stand out as surprisingly compelling. I saw this in 3d and was taken aback by how visually accomplished this film was in presenting a truly awe inducing landscape rich in colour, texture and imagination.
As the film nears its denouement we can still feel the familiar Disney beats in play as Arlo comes out of the grinder a better and braver individual. I guess the Good Dinosaur is a lesson in pleasurable predictability that carries pockets of poignancy.