Of all the Pixar movies released to date, this is the one I knew the least about going in. It’s the one I kept forgetting even existed until I either heard it mentioned on something like Screen Junkies’ movie fights, or noticed it on a list of Pixar movies. It seems to be the one other people forget about, despite being fairly recent. On the one hand, that suggests the movie isn’t all that memorable. On the other hand, it suggests that it’s not particularly bad. So I went into this movie blind, with no feelings either way, willing to give it a chance.
The basic premise is that The Good Dinosaur takes place in an alternate universe, where the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs missed the Earth, and dinosaurs survived up to the dawn of mankind. Directors Bob Peterson and Peter Sohn started working on the movie in 2009, after Peterson came up with the idea. With a release date originally planned for 2013, they announced the project at D23 Expo in 2011, and the title, The Good Dinosaur, the next year.
The directors wanted to explore what dinosaurs represent today, and how they’re often shown in stereotypes. Peterson said, “It’s time to do a movie where you get to know the dinosaur, what it’s really like to be a dinosaur and to be with a dinosaur.” I’m not really sure how that works exactly, and herbivore/predator stereotypes in the animal kingdom exist for a reason. Anyway, Peterson also cited inspiration from a childhood visit to the 1964 New York World’s Fair (a showcase done in 64 and 65 to show off new technology), where he was impressed by the dinosaur animatronics.
But by summer of 2013, the movie had been delayed by two years. Peterson had a lot of trouble finishing the movie that he’d become too invested in, so he was eventually moved from the project. Ed Catmull, Pixar’s current president, said, “All directors get really deep into their film. Sometimes you just need a different perspective to get the idea out. Some directors … are so deeply embedded in their ideas it actually takes someone else to finish it up.” Peterson, who usually focuses more on animation and storyboarding, was moved onto a different project, and Sohn took over as the main director. Due to the movie’s delays, Pixar also laid off 67 of its 1,200 employees in November of 2013, following the closure of Pixar Canada the month before (where another 80 workers were laid off). Things weren’t looking so good for the movie at the time.
They also considered the footage shown at 2013 D23 Expo to be a disaster. Sohn talked about how Spot, the main human character, was so tiny that he looked like a bug. People had a tough time connecting the growing relationship between Arlo (the main dinosaur character) and Spot. Even Pixar doubted their growing relationship going into the screening. They eventually dismantled and reimagined the entire movie. New elements were added to the story, like nature being the primary antagonist. It was stated that while everyone at Pixar liked the movie, they all recognized its fatal flaws. By the end of production, nearly the entire cast was replaced. Multiple characters were either removed or combined into singular characters. There were all sorts of changes.
So looking at this movie, you could say they struggled with the movie’s direction even more than the first Toy Story. And that movie had a lot of production difficulties due to Woody being unlikeable in their first iteration.
The Good Dinosaur wasn’t a bomb, but it’s Pixar’s lowest earning movie to date, with $332 million worldwide on a budget of $200 million. Because of additional marketing costs, it actually didn’t make money in its theatrical run, although it did more than make back its losses on home video sales. It did moderately well with critics, earning a 77% on Rotten Tomatoes with an average score of 6.6/10. Some critics praised it for its beautiful animation and a charming story, while others said that it’s not bad, but a bit simple by Pixar’s standards. Richard Roeper said in his review, “one strange, aggressively gross and dark adventure … inconsistent and weird. The Good Dinosaur is second-level Pixar all the way.”
As for my own thoughts, it’s … ok. Like Brave it’s nice enough to watch it once, but it’s a one and done kind of movie. I don’t think I’ll ever feel the need to see this again, but I don’t regret watching it. Not sure what else to say about it.
The movie stars Arlo, a young dinosaur who is very easily frightened and overcome by fear. His family, a group of farmers, is preparing their harvest for the winter when a “critter” is taking food from their storage. To help Arlo overcome his fear, his father assigns him to take care of “the critter”. A freak storm happens, Arlo’s father dies, and this sets Arlo on an adventure to find his way back home. He meets the critter, a young human boy named Spot. The two of them become close friends. Spot, along with the other dinosaurs met on the way, help Arlo learn to confront his fears.
Arlo’s constant panicking does get a little grating in the first half of the movie, and it also gets fairly predictable. I also found the human behaving as a dog a little weird, but it kind of works. The movie does get better when Arlo starts braving up. And admittedly, the scene where Arlo says goodbye to Spot almost got to me in a good way. But again, that’s all I can really say about this movie. I find it hard to care enough to write about the story and characters in detail. The theme of overcoming your fear has been done better by Disney’s related studios. More specifically, The Brave Little Toaster. The Lion King also has a touch of this, tied in with Simba overcoming his feelings of guilt to take on some responsibility.
If you want to watch an animated movie about Dinosaurs, I’d recommend you watch the original Land Before Time over anything that the Disney Corporation has put out so far.
Next up is Finding Dory, which I’m really looking forward to finally watching. After that it’ll be Cars 3, and then we’ll finish with Coco shortly after it releases on Blu-ray on the 13th. Coco is another movie I know little about, but I’ve heard good things.