Film review – The Good Dinosaur (Peter Sohn, 2015)

Pixar’s latest effort The Good Dinosaur is a by-the-numbers buddy comedy set in an alternative history where the asteroid that would have wiped them out has missed Earth completely, meaning dinosaurs and Neanderthal humans live side-by-side. It concerns a timid dinosaur called Arlo (Raymond Ochoa) who is split up from his family has to befriend a dog-like human called Spot to survive and return home.

The Good Dinosaur was destined for problems before it was released. Originally scheduled for a Christmas 2013 release, it has been put back several times, each time causing confusion and issues for the other Disney films on track for their respective releases. According to Denise Ream, one of the film’s producers, the primary reason for the rescheduling was “the story was not working, period, full stop, it just was not where it needed to be.” The director Bob Peterson, who previously found success with Up, was removed and replaced with Peter Sohn, allegedly because he was too involved with the film.

The upshot of it all is that it has found itself living in the shadow of the excellent Inside Out, which has barely left the cinemas, and is competing for shelf space in the various toy stores across the land with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which is set for release less than a month after The Good Dinosaur. It was also released in the middle of a school term, drastically reducing the opportunity to go and see it for anyone with children in school. So does that make the target audience parents who aren’t working and have children old enough to go to the cinema but under the age of 4? I guess so… [1]

The film itself feels like an unfinished product. It is the first time I’ve watched a Pixar film and genuinely felt like they’d given up on it. It feels like a last-gasp chance to recoup on a project that will, at best, break even.

The character design is uninspired. None of the dinosaurs offer any of the individuality or appeal audiences have come to expect from a Pixar or Disney film. The beautiful environment goes some way to make up for this, but only Spot himself felt like a fully realised character.

If the reports are to be believed, then the problems with the film lied in the final third. This is, then, presumably where the cavalry came in to take over and save the day. Sadly for Peterson, this is exactly where the film picked up a bit and paid off on some of its promise.

Two scenes stuck out as being particular highlights. The first was a beautiful montage scene where Arlo and Spot ran through an open plane full of birds was vintage Pixar. The second was an emotional scene in which Spot is effectively adopted by another Neanderthal family at the encouragement of Arlo.

Perhaps both of these were Peterson’s work. Will we ever know?

As a 31-year-old man, I know I’m not the target audience for this film. I do have an appreciation for all good animation though and this falls a long way short. The best critics are the children. Four days after its release, the cinema was about 10% full. The children present seemed restless and disinterested. A few parties left. Maybe they went home to watch something more enjoyable. Or, you know, fun.

The Good Dinosaur is currently on release at UK cinemas.

[1] In my local cinemas only one screening was achievable for workers and people at school, which was a 6:30 screening at a Cineworld. I don’t know how many people were at earlier screenings.

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