“The Good Dinosaur” (produced by Pixar and directed by Peter Sohn, with the voices of Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand, Raymond Ochoa and Sam Elliott) stars Arlo, an animated caricature of an Apatosaurus. In this tale, prehistoric animals survive mass extinction when the colossal meteor that most scientists think destroyed giant land animals bypasses Earth, leaving the big reptiles to rule with intelligence as well as brute force. The protagonist Arlo, one of the less courageous dinosaurs, becomes separated from his family, and with the help of a human boy he names Spot, struggles to make his way back home.
Spot and Arlo are cookie cutter animations. The two were created to entertain, as much as to instruct, and they do. Their hair-raising exploits keep kids on the edges of their seats throughout the entire movie, and what is more, all the characters deliver their feel-good dialogue so compellingly that while the kids enjoy the fast-action, the grownups can listen to expertly spoken words meant to keep them in their ideological comfort zones. For instance, Arlo’s father Poppa — portrayed movingly by Jeffrey Wright – says to his son, “You have got to get through your fear to see the beauty on the other side,” and the cliché still hits home, as it did following one of the last big-screen showings here in Columbus, when families leaving the movie theater commented favorably on the same core message as delivered not only by Poppa, but other characters during the film.
That “beauty on the other side” is most obvious in the animated scenery in this production. In aesthetic contrast to Arlo and the other characters in “The Good Dinosaur,” the film magnificently depicts the prehistoric North American West in heightened realism, even rivaling the artwork of Thomas Moran, the great American painter of Western landscapes.
Only the chiaroscuro of the animation visually ties the Disney characters to their Pixar planet, and though something along the lines of Winsor McCay’s brilliant creation Gertie, the animated dinosaur, might work better artistically than Arlo does, neither Pixar nor Disney has ever produced a better argument than the scenery in this film for appreciating Earth’s natural beauty.
Perhaps most important, the evocative animated background of the film forcefully reminds adult viewers that as beautiful as nature is in all its Pixar mountain majesty, our situation on Earth is fragile and unpredictable. In fact, who can say with certainty that “manunkind” would be the chosen species, if, as projected in the movie, a change in the flight of an asteroid had spared reptiles to one day possess intelligence equal to our own.
This movie is now available on YouTube, iTunes, Amazon Video and other services.