In The Good Dinosaur, the minds at Pixar have imagined a world where the meteor that killed the dinosaurs has missed Earth. The result, a few million years later, are more evolved dinosaurs. They farm the land, are ranchers, or sometimes just scavengers. And the humans that have come along the evolutionary line are seen as wild animals.
Arlo and his family live on a little farm by the river under Clawtooth Mountain. There, they live a happy life and grow corn through the summer to feed them through the winter. His father is a stern, archetypal farmer; his mother, nurturing. Though he came from a large egg, Arlo is the runt. His sister is the brains, his brother the brawn and both have earned their right to make their mark on the family silo.
To earn Arlo his mark, his father gives him a special job. A critter (wild human boy) has been getting into their corn supply. Arlo is to catch and kill it. When Arlo fails, his father tries to help him finish the job, but tragedy strikes. With Arlo feeling guilty and his family struggling, his anger at the critter gets the better of him. He falls into the river, is knocked unconscious and wakes very far from home. With only the critter, who he names Spot as his companion, they set out on a long, epic journey against nature finding both friends and enemies.
What really struck me about this movie is how realistic the animation is. In the opening scenes, the water flowing down the river had me fooled. The wild landscapes the team at Pixar has created looked more like filmed live action than animated from scratch. It really is a brilliant achievement and a high point in modern animation.
Arlo and the other characters stand out from the backgrounds because they do not look so realistic, and that is a good thing. After all, these are imagined forms of dinosaurs with an extra few million years of evolution on them. I enjoy Arlo’s knobby knees, the wrangling t-rexes who gallop like horses, and the triceratops with many horns for his companions.
What I love most about The Good Dinosaur is that it is a simple story of a farm boy lost from home. He worries about his family, and the scene where he explains the idea of family to Spot is one of the film’s most poignant moments. Arlo’s biggest obstacles are not the scavenging pterodactyls, but nature and all its wild fury. After the river takes his father, Arlo, and the audience, has a better understanding and fear of nature’s power. In the end, Arlo realizes he is powerless against it, but he must brave it to move on.
While my son loves this movie, especially Spot, some moments in The Good Dinosaur might be scary for young children. And have fun explaining what happened to Poppa. But with a big adventure, a fresh look at familiar dinosaurs, a special emphasis on family and fun characters, I highly recommend this movie be shared with kids. My favorite thing about The Good Dinosaur is that it has taught my son the word family.
“You are me, and more.”