But that run was bracketed by Cars and Cars 2, a pair of atrocities that first proved Pixar wasn’t perfect; the brand has been further compromised by the aforementioned Brave, the perfectly-fine-but-nothing-special Monsters University, and now The Good Dinosaur. The latter film’s premise, elegantly and simply laid out in the opening scene, is that the meteor that killed the dinosaurs just barely missed, giving us a Creationist Museum-friendly reality where dinos and humans roam the earth side by side, the former working farms with their families, the latter as feral “critters.”
The high concept here was apparently “dinosaur western,” with the expected twangy score, campfire chats, and Sam Elliott appearance. The focus is on Arlo (voiced by Raymond Ochoa), the runt of the family, a tiny, wide-eyed kid who’s scared of pretty much everything, and struggles to do his part for the homestead. Much is made of the importance of Arlo “making his mark” — literally, putting a muddy hoof-print on the property — with his aphorism-spouting papa (voiced by Jeffrey Wright) trying to help him “get through your fear,” which backfires badly, resulting in a classic Disney Parent Death™. Arlo finds himself far from home, trying to find his way back (as in The Incredible Journey) with the help of tiny human “Spot” (Jack Bright), and they have adventures along the way, and lessons are learned, and so on.
The Good Dinosaur isn’t necessarily a bad movie — and, credit where due, it looks amazing, full of inventive compositions, gorgeous movement (a sequence of Arlo and Spot running through a flock of seagulls is a jaw-dropper), and convincing creatures. But the script is puzzlingly devoid of wit, the conflicts and character arcs are unimaginative and stale, the pacing is inexorable, and the plotting is rudimentary at best — would you believe Arlo finds himself in the exact same situation that killed his dad? Do you think he’ll rise to the occasion? Do you?
None of this will matter all that much to Good Dinosaur’s key demo — kids are gonna love it, especially dinosaur-crazy kids, and they are legion (I’ve got one, so I know that of which I speak). But as it wound around to its ponderously foregone conclusions, I found myself nostalgic for a Pixar that reliably made movies not for kids, but for families — films that parents could enjoy, rather than merely sit through.
The Good Dinosaur is out today.