Film Review: The Good Dinosaur

by Sam Robinson

Rated PG. Starring Raymond Ochoa, Jack Bright, Sam Elliott. Directed by Peter Sohn.

After taking us into the world of toys, cars, bugs, and the human mind, Pixar stomps into prehistoric territory in their latest adventure, The Good Dinosaur.

The Good Dinosaur is based on the premise of an alternate timeline that reveals what would have happened if the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs didn’t hit Earth. Thus, dinosaurs are advanced beings, and humans behave like animals. Arlo is a young apatosaurus whose family are farmers. He is a jumpy dinosaur – filled with fear – and fails to meet his father’s expectations of protecting their crop, told he must to ‘make his mark’, which we’re told is “doing something big for someone other than yourself”.

But following a tragedy, Arlo is swept down a river, separated from his family, and must work out a way of getting home. During his expedition, he links up with Spot – a jibberish-speaking feral human with the mannerisms of a dog.

It’s a very strange idea for a movie, but inventive at the same time. Like many Pixar films, it creates a world that is familiar yet different, and the animation and landscapes used are just beautiful – perhaps an indication of the attention to detail that the lengthy time in production allowed. The Good Dinosaur was held off from its original 2014 release date and ‘re-imagined’ due to problems in production: the entire story was re-written and the voice cast overhauled. Pixar’s track record is very strong, so it’s understandable they were willing to spend money in order to get this jurassic tale right.

Unfortunately though, even with the extra time and expense, The Good Dinosaur doesn’t rise to the calibre of previous releases (in particular, Inside Out, which released to high acclaim this year). As a kids film, this ticks most boxes – except for a few scary scenes – but it doesn’t have the child-adult crossover appeal that marks the great films in the Pixar canon. It feels very plain, which is a shame.

One major problem with The Good Dinosaur is that it feels like a number of shorts strung together. Arlo spends a few minutes building a tent, later he encounters hamsters popping out of holes in the ground, and he meets various characters that appear for a scene and then disappear. With a short runtime as is, this segmentedness doesn’t hold a feature film together very well. There’s also some underdeveloped themes, particularly the aforementioned ‘making your mark’ – the reason for which is never explained properly. Neither is why Arlo’s father is so set on pushing his son beyond his comfort zone, which just appears to be loveless.

‘You can’t get rid of fear – but you can work through it and find out what you’re made of.’

I left The Good Dinosaur feeling pretty sad at the message it pushes. Arlo is driven by fear his whole life, yet rather than comforting him, his father makes life more difficult for him – imploring Arlo to do a great work, making his mark, to win his approval. It’s similar to The Lion King, yet Arlo’s father is much colder than Mufasa.

It got me thinking about the story of the Prodigal son in the Bible (Luke 15:11-32). Jesus tells a story of a son who leaves home and squanders his father’s money, yet when he returns to ask forgiveness, his father welcomes him with joy. This parable shows us what God is like – how loving he is and quick to forgive – no matter what we have done. Our Heavenly Father wants us to come home to him, seeking forgiveness. He is very different to Arlo’s disapproving father, who is driven by works (based particularly on strength). Of course, God wants us to be ‘making our mark’ by serving him and others faithfully – but these things don’t win approval in his eyes. And, our Heavenly Father’s love is relentless, so much so that he comforts us in our times of fear (Psalm 27:1).

The Verdict: The Good Dinosaur is a strange beast: a film that feels like a hybrid of Finding Nemo and The Lion King, with strong moral lessons to be learned, but without much to keep adults entertained. 3/5

The Good Dinosaur releases in Australian cinemas on December 26th, and is currently screening in the USA.

For more film reviews from a Christian perspective, connect with Reel Gospel on Facebook and Twitter.

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