Director: Pete Sohen
Starring: Voices of Frances McDormand, Anna Paquin, Sam Elliott
Over the best part of the decade, Disney Pixar has been releasing one film per year – “WALL-E” (2008), “Up” (2009), “Toy Story 3” (2010). But with nothing in 2014, there’s a double helping this year. First was “Inside Out”, a massive global hit with critics and audiences alike and also out on DVD this week. So where does that leave the studio’s second film of 2015, “The Good Dinosaur”?
Not in the shadow of Joy and Co, that’s for sure. While comparisons are inevitable, director Pete Sohen and his team clearly want their film to be judged on its own merits. So they’ve given us something totally different. A dinosaur western.
It starts with a ‘what if?’ What if the meteorite that, by all accounts, crashed into the Earth millions of years ago and destroyed the dinosaurs had just whizzed across the night sky and by-passed our planet? What would Earth be like? The answer is something akin to the old West, with the first third of the film as Little Dinosaur On The Prairie. Arlo (Raymond Ochoa) is the youngest, smallest and most timid of three young dinosaurs, spending an idyllic childhood on a farm with Poppa (Jeffrey Wright) and Momma (Frances McDormand). But after a particularly vicious flood, Arlo finds himself marooned miles away from home and is befriended by a strange little creature who behaves like a dog, yet is determined to look after him. Arlo calls him Spot and the two become close friends as the young dinosaur seeks out his way home, as well as learning to overcome his fears.
At which point, it’s on to Dances With Dinosaurs. Arlo is befriended by three T Rex, two teenagers and their battle-scarred dad, Butch. It even re-works the scene from Costner’s western where Dunbar and the Sioux crawl on their stomachs to the top of a ridge to look down on a herd of buffalo. Here, it’s Arlo, Spot and the T Rex doing exactly the same, but to discover their missing cattle.
And the western theme continues. The soundtrack of twanging banjos and guitars harks back to the days of wild west classics and the T Rex are portrayed as cowboys, especially dad Butch, who has the perfect voice for a tough frontiersman:
Sam Elliott, with his characteristic drawl from the depths of his boots. It’s one of those wonderful moments where an animated character opens its mouth and the voice that comes out is a perfect match. Nobody but Elliott could have done it.
This is, of course, a Disney film, so it comes complete with all the morals and values that we expect, ones that chime with those of the old West. Family values, the importance of friendship, overcoming fears ……… they’re all there and the last one is a constant because, from the first moment the shell of his egg cracks, Arlo is afraid of everything. So “The Good Dinosaur” isn’t as thought provoking as “Inside Out”. But it doesn’t set out to be. It has something else up its sleeve.
Seeing it on the big screen is an absolute must. There’s no other way to appreciate the extraordinary quality of the animation. Those early scenes showing the rushing river and the wind rippling through the grass are uncannily realistic and it only gets better, with thundering storms and floods and the wonderful delicacy of autumn leaves floating on the breeze like tissue paper. It has to be seen to be believed.
“The Good Dinosaur” is enchanting, a truly magical film for all ages. The animation is exceptional, taking it to another level, and the overall film is funny, touching and deeply reassuring. More importantly, this isn’t a film that’s going to languish in the shadow of “Inside Out”. It stands proud, all on its own.