A young dinosaur gets lost in the forest and has to find his way home with nobody for company but a dog-like boy.
From the stunning opening shot here of water babbling over pebbles, it’s clear that Pixar’s technical animation skills are unbeatable – which is just as well, since the blobby cartoon dinosaurs who live in this idyll don’t seem quite up to their standard. This is a lesser effort from the studio, a sweet, funny, very straightforward adventure with a lot of heart but none of the sophistication of, say, Inside Out.
The set-up is slightly confused – perhaps thanks to a tumultuous and rushed production after an 11th hour rethink. In this world the dinosaurs were never wiped out and have evolved over millions of years, though there’s little exploration of that idea. We hone in on a family of Apatosauruses who have become farmers. That’s about the full extent of their progress. Given the millions of years that have passed it seems a touch…unproductive. They talk, of course, but what cartoon animals don’t?
Into this Apatosaurus family are born three kids, two boisterous and strong, one tiny and cowardly. The latter, Arlo (Raymond Ochoa), fears everything but wants to be brave. His dad tasks him with killing a “critter” that keeps eating their crops, but he wimps out. Letting the creature live causes a series of knock-on events that eventually see him lost, miles from home. His only companion on the journey home is that critter, Spot (Jack Bright), a human who has evolved to become basically a Labrador.
The story is very A-to-B with little time for sub-plots or supporting characters, aside from some interesting cowboy T-Rexes and a strange, trippy hermit. Though the journey feels underdeveloped, director Peter Sohn has got the most important thing right: the relationship between Arlo and Spot. Their bond rings touchingly true, always. If a lot of The Good Dinosaur shows the marks of a rushed production – though not the landscape and environment design, which is gorgeous – its central pair have enough heart to make the film’s shortcomings fade away.
Given the work lavished on every detail of the glorious backdrop, it’s a pity that the story happening in front of it is so familiar and safe.