If Randy Newman had been available 65 million years ago, he would have grabbed some coconuts and banged out a jaunty tune espousing the virtues of dinosaurs. The title of Pixar’s new feature is a slight misnomer, because as it turns out, most of them are pretty good: a conservative and surprisingly dexterous species who live on a diet of corn maize, family values, and old fashioned hard work, less the spiritual antecedents of Steven Spielberg than the Cleavers or the Nelsons.
The Good Dinosaur tells the story of young Arlo (Raymond Ochoa), a timid Apatosaurus and the runt of his litter who goes astray from his family while chasing a young human wildling named Spot (Jack Bright) away from the corn stash. Forced together in order to survive, Arlo and Spot soon form a deep bond founded on the knowledge that their differences are only skin deep but their similarities boundless. Travelling in search of Arlo’s home on Clawtooth Mountain, they must find the courage to confront the daunting predators and boundless wilderness that awaits them.
If The Good Dinosaur bears some suspiciously similar plot elements to 1988’s The Land Before Time, what distinguishes it is the astonishingly beautiful animation, based in part on new technology implementing United States topographical survey scans to render backdrops. The gravitas of that visual sense is almost enough to distract from the uneven tone of the film, but not quite, because while it is consistently sweet, that also means it lacks the acerbic quality that diverts other Pixar movies from banal territory. In other words, while it is never anything less than charming, only towards the end is The Good Dinosaur actually exciting, where mostly it just ambles on politely.
An awesome technical feat, The Good Dinosaur is a very good Pixar film, but not quite a great one, even if it is highly likeable all the same.