The Good Dinosaur review: “gorgeously animated, with a surprising emotional impact”

Pixar vividly imagines a world where the dinosaurs never died out and live alongside our cavemen ancestors

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★★★★

After a couple of years away, 2015 is the year Pixar returned with a bang, releasing two feature films in the same calendar year for the first time ever. July’s Inside Out proved a hit with audiences (making over $850 million worldwide) while drawing praise from critics for its sensitive approach to the serious subject of mental health. And now it’s the turn of The Good Dinosaur.

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The story takes place in an alternative Earth, where the asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs missed the planet, and the creatures evolved as the dominant species alongside cavemen. A young Apatosaurus named Arlo (voiced by Raymond Ochoa) struggles on his family’s farm, failing to “make his mark” due to being ruled by his fears. However, when a mixture of tragedy and misfortune sees him stranded alongside a curious caveboy named Spot, Arlo must overcome his demons in order to get home.

It’s clear from the first frames just how much has gone into making the film look as beautiful as possible. The elements play an important part in Arlo’s journey, resulting in truly breathtaking wide shots of gorgeous animated landscapes that on occasion distract you from the central action.

While the visual standard is certainly maintained, any Pixar film is inevitably going to be compared to those of their noughties golden age, and that perhaps is where the film loses a little bit of its shine.

The plot remains fairly simple throughout – an underdog forced to prove his worth is a story many animated movies have done before – and it doesn’t have that “instant classic” quality of, say, Up or Monsters, Inc. However, after a slow start, this basic story is told very well, broaching themes that viewers young and old will become invested in.

The emphasis is on the developing relationship between Arlo and Spot, which is remarkably well handled given one of the characters doesn’t speak. Indeed, some of the most touching moments have hardly any words at all. In a genre that is fond of overwhelming you with effects and quick-fire one-liners, this is an adventure that is happy to take its time. 

The humour is another high point, gaining laughs via sight gags and the various eccentric characters that cross our heroes’ path (including a somewhat paranoid triceratops that steals the show). Mixing in the laughs prevents the film from getting too sentimental, and gives the well-chosen cast a chance to shine.

With his voice at a near-constant quiver, young actor Raymond Ochoa adds a lot of depth to what might have been a straightforward character, particularly given the fact that he has to talk for two. He’s joined by a whole host of familiar voices including a manic Steve Zahn as the film’s villain, and the unmistakable deep drawl of Sam Elliott, who seems tailor-made for the voice of grizzled T-Rex, Butch.

It’s lacking the originality we’ve come to expect from Pixar (although I’m not sure how many other family films have a brief psychedelic scene), but by doing the basics right The Good Dinosaur creates a far more emotionally impactful film than you would expect.

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The Good Dinosaur is now in cinemas