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Making His Own Mark: The Good Dinosaur

Updated on January 2, 2016

The Good Dinosaur is a Pixar film that takes a look at what might have happened on earth if the events leading to dinosaur extinction never happened. Set millions of years after the actual extinction, a dinosaur couple welcomes three young ones to the farm where they live and work the land. The biggest of their three eggs, though, produces Arlo (Raymond Ochoa), the runt of the batch. While Arlo's siblings can do the more physical challenges on the farm, Arlo's Poppa (Jeffrey Wright) has his little one guard a silo that contains the family's winter rations of corn. The trap ensnares an early human boy who makes noises and snarls, but doesn't speak. Instead of killing the boy, who does eat their food, Arlo releases the boy, who scares him with his behavior. To make him face his fears, Poppa takes Arlo on a trek to find the boy. Instead, they encounter a raging river, sweeping Poppa away just after he ensures Arlo's safety.

Back at the farm, Arlo's Momma (Frances McDormand) insists that Arlo take an increased responsibility on the farm. As he tries, he sees the boy again, and gives chase. The chase again goes to the river, where both boy and dinosaur get caught in the water. They eventually reach shore, though they are far from home. The boy frees Arlo from a rock that has pinned his leg, and then leads Arlo to the berries he loves. However, they are far from the river that will let Arlo find their way home. An encounter with another dinosaur leads Arlo to call the boy Spot (Jack Bright). As they try to find the river again, they get offers of help from a pterodactyl named Thunderclap (Steve Zahn) and a tyrannosaurus rex named Butch (Sam Elliott). One of them has good intentions toward Arlo and Spot, while the other doesn't.

The Good Dinosaur is a good offering from Pixar, but it is pretty standard fare in terms of story, and more kid-friendly than family inclusive. The Toy Story movies and Up were also about family, but had more elements that engaged adults than the story of two youngsters with different backgrounds becoming unlikely friends. The Good Dinosaur also has the feel of a prehistoric western, where viewers see farming dinosaurs, ranching dinosaurs, and rustlers and assorted hunters. Though Arlo and Spot don't speak each other's language, they observe and grow to understand one another. In their journey, Arlo comes to learn that both he and Spot have lost loved ones, and both are trying to find a place to belong. Arlo knows he belongs with Momma and his siblings, but he also knows that Spot has a similar desire. This marks the Pixar feature debut of Peter Sohn, whose career in animation has primarily included assignments on other Pixar projects. Sohn worked on the story, but the screenplay credit goes to Meg LeFauve, who collaborated on the writing of Pixar's other 2015 feature, Inside Out, the year's better Pixar family tale.

Ochoa and Bright, like Sohn, have worked on other Pixar films, but this is the first time either has a prominent role. The young men do nice work as an odd couple who simply want to take care of those who matter to them. I especially like the scene where they work together to get Arlo a generous helping of berries. They also show they're willing to protect one another on the journey home. The strongest support in the movie comes from Elliott as Butch and Zahn as Thunderclap, who know how to survive in the wild, and teach their young acquaintances the lessons they've learned - complete with scars. I also enjoyed Wright and McDormand as Arlo's patient parents, and Anna Paquin as Butch's gung-ho daughter Ramsey. Sohn himself makes a cameo as a creature Arlo and Spot meet in a forest. John Ratzenberger has his usual cameo as creature at odds with Butch and hus entourage. The theatrical release includes a complementary short entitled Sanjay's Super Team, directed by Sanjay Patel. In it, a Hindu father and son have differing attitudes about worship until the son has an experience that allows him to connect his interests to the faith.

The Good Dinosaur marks the first time that Pixar has released two features in the same year. I won't go as far as to say more is better, but this is certainly better than having another Cars or Monsters movie from the studio. The Good Dinosaur takes an interesting look at things that might have happened had dinosaur and man had inhabited the planet together. It's slightly amusing that the reptiles are more evolved than the mammals, but Spot and others like him had to start somewhere. With so many of Pixar's movies leading to sequels, I wonder if The Good Dinosaur will get in the sequel line - and perhaps find a way to continue the story of Arlo and Spot in a way that builds on this relationship.

On a scale of zero to four stars, I give The Good Dinosaur three stars. A film with a small, but strong, roar.


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