Pixar’s wonderful Inside Out was always going to be a hard act to follow, and so it proves for this stripped-down, on-the-nose dino adventure, which compensates for its faintly flat storytelling with some of Pixar’s most visually stunning animation to date.
Set in an alternate world where the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs misses Earth completely, the film centres on Arlo (voiced by Raymond Ochoa), a timid Apatosaurus who struggles to make his mark on the farm run by his dinosaur family in what looks like a prehistoric version of the American wilderness.
After his father (Jeffrey Wright) is tragically killed (this is a Disney movie, after all), Arlo is accidentally separated from his dino-family and has to undertake a perilous journey to get home. His only companion is a scrappy, feral human child (Jack Bright), who responds to the name Spot.
Essentially, this is a boy-and-his-dog movie, except the dinosaur is the boy and the boy is the dog, a clever idea that sustains the film throughout some otherwise over-familiar story beats. Similarly, the film takes some weird tonal shifts, becoming a full-on western when Arlo and Spot meet a trio of buffalo ranching T-Rexes (one of whom, gloriously, is voiced by and even looks a bit like Sam Elliott).
The characters are extremely likeable, and there’s plenty of humour, most notably in a delightfully surreal moment when Arlo and Spot get drunk off fermenting fruit. The film also manages to deliver Pixar’s time-honoured emotional punch, in a beautifully directed, wordless scene where the characters find a way to communicate their pain over the loss of a family member.
That said, the script leans a little too heavily on its various life lessons, over-indulging in platitudes and occasionally feeling derivative.
Visually, however, the film is breath-takingly beautiful, elevating photo-realistic naturalism to new levels of gorgeousness.
Ultimately, The Good Dinosaur is a likeable and beautifully animated tale, even if it never quite hits the heights of Pixar’s best work.