Production was halted early in the process of making “The Good Dinosaur” because it had some dinosaur-size problems. Peter Sohn was brought in as the new director and he started the process over two years ago.
The second attempt ends up so flat it would have been smart to scrap it and try a third time. It is weighed down by a flawed concept, unappealing characters and a soundtrack that lacks anything close to a memorable tune.
The only aspect worthy of high praise is the background work, which is so stunning it keeps the movie from heading for a tar pit. Even Mother Nature can’t make a landscape this amazing.
Work by multiple writers was cobbled together for this story of a a world where the meteor that hit the Earth and wiped out all dinosaurs actually missed. The dinosaurs have evolved to the point where they live in houses, plant crops and herd bison.
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For some reason, humans have only progressed slightly more than canines.
Arlo (voiced by Raymond Ochoa), an Apatosaurus with a big heart, is the runt in his family. He’s desperately trying to find his place but a long list of fears is holding him back. Following a family tragedy of his making, Arlo finds himself miles away from home. He starts the long trek back accompanied by a young boy (Jack Bright) he names Spot.
“The Good Dinosaur” lumbers along as Arlo faces numerous challenges. The quest is filled with perils, many that are too intense for small children. The lightest moments come when he finally joins a T-Rex family trying to recover their herd of rustled bison.
He gets some warm fatherly advice from Butch (Sam Elliott), a grizzled veteran of the open range who is both a sensitive father and a tough protector. And, Elliott’s voice is hypnotic. All he has to do is speak and the nod to the Old West being taken in the segment comes to life.
Other than that encounter, “The Good Dinosaur” is a dull coming-of-age story where the main character is so bland that becoming extinct wouldn’t be such a bad thing. The biggest problem is the design. Sohn has opted for dinosaurs that look more like parade balloons and sharp contrast to the eye-popping backgrounds.
There’s also something off about Spot. It makes no sense – except that this is a Pixar film – to have the human sporting a diaper made of leaves. And he has perfect teeth despite the fact Spot loves to gnaw on trees.
Such points would not have come across as big if the story had been even marginally interesting or original. It’s a by-the-numbers story where the central figure learns a lesson about life.
It doesn’t help “The Good Dinosaur” opens in the wake of the incredible “Inside Out.” That Pixar offering blended an incredibly intelligent script with beautiful animation. Compared to that offering, most animated films would fall short.
But, that’s not the reason “The Good Dinosaur” is one of Pixar’s biggest misses. It just doesn’t have the kind of memorable elements that have made films from “Toy Story” to “Up” so enjoyable.
As if to add insult to injury, the feature film is accompanied by the short “Sanjay’s Super Team” from first-time director Sanjay Patel. It’s the story of a young boy torn between modern ways his parents religious practices. It has more warmth, humor and creative animation than in all of “The Good Dinosaur.” Had “Sanjay’s Super Team” been the feature-length offering, Pixar would have had another hit.