An Offbeat Kind of Coming-of-Age Story: About “The Good Dinosaur”

Over the course of the past year, I’ve made the effort to expand my dialogue about storytelling by going beyond the boundaries of books and out into the mediums of TV and movies. I do so by devoting a least one post every other month to an overview of a TV show or movie that’s reached a significant time in its history (i.e. series premiere, series finale, film release, anniversary of a release/premiere, etc.). Previously, I discussed my thoughts about the enthralling Philippe Petit biopic, “The Walk.” Today, I go over the second Disney/Pixar film to come out this year, “The Good Dinosaur.”

Imagine if the asteroid that supposedly wiped the dinosaurs off the face of the earth completely missed it? And that’s as far as that otherwise unimportant element to the storyline goes. Millions of years later, supposedly in present time but on an alternative timeline, the dinosaurs have established enough intelligence to even create their own farms; such as the case of the family of Arlo, a young dinosaur who’s practically scared of everything. His father, Henry, gives Arlo and his siblings a challenge. The challenge is that if each of them can accomplish something great, they can place their footprints on the family’s corn silo. While his siblings accomplish this feat to no fail, Arlo struggles otherwise. But when he gets swept away by the nearby river and is transported miles away from home, accompanied by a human boy he names Spot, Arlo must overcome his fears as he navigates his way home.

Funny enough, “The Good Dinosaur” actually reminds me of another Disney film from many years ago, as well as two other Pixar films. The Disney film it reminds me of is the 2003 film, “Brother Bear.” Both protagonists hope to join their prints with others in order to signify their coming-of-age, but before doing so, they both must go on these life-changing journeys in the shadow of tragedy. As for the two Pixar films that come to mind, they are “Finding Nemo” and “Wall-E.” “Finding Nemo” similarly involves a character who goes on a long journey in search of something beloved. “Wall-E” on the other hand reminisces “The Good Dinosaur” not so much by plot but by style. Because the character of Spot doesn’t talk, verbal interaction between him and Arlo remains minimal; similar to how the first half hour of “Wall-E” was.

Despite its otherwise unimportant plot twist with the asteroid completely missing the earth, I have to say that it did make space for the storytellers to get creative with how the creatures would look and act like; such as rainbow-colored lizards, insects that are the size of Spot, hamster-like creatures that are more like groundhogs, and scary-looking chickens. As made evident by what Arlo’s family does, there was also space for evolution; so much as to where the humans behave more like dogs than the humans that we otherwise know of, and dinosaurs establish enough intelligence to even round a herd of bison-like creatures.

The animation was beautifully done. The landscapes that were seen continuously throughout the film looked really real. That’s also something that I find a little problematic. Referring to something I learned in a comic book/graphic novel class I took one year in college, it seems that the more realistic-looking your characters and settings are, the more it takes away from that fictional element that this is a made up world. Honestly, unless Arlo or any of the characters are on screen, you forget that you’re looking at an animated film. While that signals progress as far as Pixar’s continuously developing technology goes, as I said, it’s worrisome that it may be taking away from the escapism of going into a fictional world.

There was also something else that I hadn’t really thought about until I actually saw “The Good Dinosaur,” and it’s regarding the human characters (yes, there’s more than one, so spoiler alert). If the humans never developed the mental capability that we’re at now where we’re creating our own civilizations and assuming that the continents did form (given the animation team’s research trips to Wyoming and Montana that the environments evoke so much of in the film), why then would the human characters be white if the Europeans never came to North America in the first place? Yes, people may sigh over me bringing “the race card” into the equation, but I’m just saying that if the storytellers and animators could be as creatively innovative/accurate to the timeline as possible, then wouldn’t it have made more sense for the humans to be indigenous and not white?

Overall, “The Good Dinosaur” was a good movie. As far as execution goes, I don’t think it was as strongly done as it could have been, but don’t let that stop you from experiencing the emotional experiences Pixar is known for evoking in their films. There is really so much to this film that you would not know about from just watching the trailers and TV spots so I think it’s worth going to see. Not to mention that the preceding short film, “Sanjay’s Super Team,” was beautifully done.



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