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Sunday, 27 December 2015

The Good Dinosaur

(PG) ★★★½

Director: Peter Sohn.

Cast: (voices of) Raymond Ochoa, Jack Bright, Sam Elliott, Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand, Steve Zahn.

Acid was way better back in the day.

IF any of the other animation houses released The Good Dinosaur, you’d consider it a hit.

But by the lofty storytelling standards of Pixar, it is merely good. Really good, but still just good.

Being released the same year as possibly Pixar’s greatest film – Inside Out – means it’s impossible not to look at the two movies side by side, which puts The Good Dinosaur at a disadvantage. Next to the remarkable script of Inside Out, The Good Dinosaur feels so simple, conventional and even clichéd.

Thankfully, like all Pixar films (bar Cars 2), The Good Dinosaur has so much heart and integrity and so deftly handles its jokes and emotions that you can overlook the plainness of the story.

The set-up is intriguing – in a bizarro world where the asteroid that wipes out the dinosaurs misses Earth, we end up with a dino-society of sorts.

The herbivores are crop farmers, the carnivores run cattle, and the humans are not that different from the other non-sapient mammals running around.

Our hero is Arlo (Ochoa), a scared little apatosaurus desperate to “make his mark” but haunted by a family tragedy.

A run-in with a human child, who Arlo names Spot (Bright), whisks the pair a long way from Arlo’s home, and the two must work together to make it back.

The Good Dinosaur’s plot is of the Homeward Bound variety, with a boy-and-his-dog dynamic thrown in – the twist being the boy is actually a dinosaur and the dog is actually a boy.

Once Arlo and Spot team up, the film finds its feet as it gets a much-needed sense of humour and stops labouring its message about overcoming fear in order to make your mark in the world.

It’s still a very normal story dressed up in some rather eccentric clothes, and at times the movie almost feels too weird for its own good. We get cowboy tyrannosaurs, storm-chasing pterosaurs, and raptor rustlers, but weirdest of all is the look of the dinosaurs, which takes a while to get used too. The photo-realistic world they live in is visually stunning, but it makes the cartoonish, plasticine-like characters seem out of place.

Despite its formulaic story, it still manages to the push the right buttons. There will be a few happy tears at the end, and there are a couple of decent laughs.

In the wake of Inside Out, The Good Dinosaur could be seen as a deliberate attempt at a simpler film that’s more kiddie-friendly and less cerebral and inventive.

As such, The Good Dinosaur is good enough, even if it’s not as Pixar perfect as we’ve come to expect.

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