Prehistoric behemoths, cunning cave people, and other colourful anthropomorphic creatures are thrown together in The Good Dinosaur, an awkward composite retelling of history that ends up entertaining a bit and teaching less.
This Disney fare starts with a meteor heading towards Earth, but in this alternate reality, the harbinger of dinosaur death misses the planet, sparing the creatures and setting them up for a potential meeting with humans.
Well, one dinosaur eventually meets a human, but before that, he and his clan, and I guess all other dinosaurs, live frontier-like life styles. Arlo, the titular dino and the runt of his litter, resides on a farm where duties include feeding chickens and harvesting corn – he struggles with both these tasks. Later we meet a group of Tyrannosaurs that run like horses, speak like cowboys, and heard buffaloes for reasons unknown.
This western motif runs strangely through The Good Dinosaur, with accents and visuals often distracting from the main story rather than enhancing it. It follows a fairly standard plot, one championed by The Lion King where a young boy needs to grow up, and after losing his father, is forced to navigate a scary world filled with foreign creatures before returning home to save the day.
Now, The Good Dinosaur is nowhere near as emotionally compelling or lovable as that iconic Disney predecessor, though it sure does have moments where it harkens back to it – a tragedy in a raging canyon, nefarious scavengers, and strange hallucinations (not a great idea to remind of a much better film). Arlo winds up on his own after accidentally being swept down river way the hell away from his home. Shy and petrified of everything big and small, he receives unlikely help from a mute cave boy that initially was plaguing his family’s farm.
So the two form a friendship, and entertaining antics ensue. It’s all sweet and moderately funny until we meet creatures that open their mouths. Abrasive and odd, the plethora of horned and winged dinosaurs are annoying as they are weird, as this meeting of animal and human characteristics fails to make any of them interesting.
Weak on writing, overt on meaning, The Good Dinosaur sure does provide some visual wonder. Arlo scampers with his father at night in a field of fireflies, while mountains and grasslands and rivers offer beautiful vistas. It doesn’t have the same dual appeal to kids and adults as most Disney films do, making it more of a slog for adults likely confounded by some curious choices. Lacking emotional weight, it’s hard to be invested, and best just to stare blankly at this colourful, inexplicable world.