November 30, 2015
Family Film Blogging: The Good Dinosaur
Posted by Christine Hurt

We have been looking forward to The Good Dinosaur for awhile, and when I say "we," I mean our eight year-old.  But, all three kids and I went on Wednesday before Thanksgiving for a good holiday treat.  I'm not sure if I felt treated at the end.  In sum, our group was mixed.  The youngest and oldest child liked it, but the middle one and I were skeptical.  And we generally aren't skeptical about anything Disney or Disney/Pixar.

The plot, as my fourteen year-old put it, is The Lion King.  As I put it, without the catchy songs or funny comic relief.  Arlo is an Apatosaurus, living in an alternate history universe in which the dinosaur-destroying asteroid did not hit earth.  Now, millions of years later, dinosaurs have developed even further as the top megafauna species and are living in a land that looks a lot like Utah.  Herbivore dinosaurs are now cultivating the soil and growing their own crops, and carnivore dinos are bison ranchers.  They still do not seem to have developed bartering or market economies, but they have developed language.  Anyway, Arlo is the runt of his dino litter, and never seems to be living up to his perceived place in his family unit.  His father is generally very patient and supportive of him, but one day Arlo lets the family down and his father loses his life in a flash flood in a canyon trying to fix Arlo's mistake (almost identical in visuals to the Lion King stampede scene).  Soon after, Arlo is separated from his homestead and has to make his way in the frightening mountains by himself, until he is befriended by a "critter."  This critter is described on the movie site as a human, but I'll leave it to the anthropologists to classify this hominid.  (Critters don't seem to have speech, travel on four legs as often as two, blah, blah, blah.)  Arlo calls him "Spot."  The bulk of the movie is Arlo and (nonverbal) Spot trying to make their way back to the homestead, meeting very strange creatures along the way.

Just as in The Lion King, the writers have to work around the whole "circle of life" thing.  Remember in that movie, we mostly saw Simba eating bugs and worms with Timon and Pumba, which worked because the audience probably couldn't take Simba stalking a zebra and eating it raw on camera.  Here, Arlo is an herbivore, but Spot is an omnivore.  So, we see Spot eat an iguana, a really big bug, and corn.  The T-Rexes have rounded teeth, and when they fight the raptors, they grab them in their teeth and throw them bloodlessly.  We do not see the T-Rexes eat their "longhorns" (bison).  Also, similar to The Lion King, Arlo's enemies here are scavengers.  Though not hyenas, the pterodactyls have learned to scavenge after the harsh storms, when animals are separated, injured, and scared.  Because they hunt in packs, they seem to be threatening to even large land animals, but especially the critters.

The biggest difference between LK and GD is that GD isn't funny.  At all.  It is sweet and it is touching, but it's not funny.  Spot doesn't talk.  The pterodactyls are not funny.  The T-Rexes are strange, not funny -- more Rango than Disney.  The weirdest character of all is a dinosaur named the "pet collector," as the website calls him.  He is really unsettling and bizarre, but thankfully only on screen for two minutes or so.

The best part of the movie is the amazingly beautiful scenery.  I can't imagine how difficult it is to make animation look this real -- the trees, the water, the dirt, the storm, etc.  The dinosaurs, however, look cartoon-ish.  (I never would have guessed Apatosaurus, for example.)  Arlo looks more like Dino from the Flintstones than an actual dinosaur.  Someone made a decision that the dinosaurs needed to look cute -- either for merchandising purposes or to avoid confusion with Disney's realistic-looking 2000 Dinosaur or the very realistic-looking 2013 Walking with Dinosaurs, or both.  The result is a landscape that is very realistic and beautiful, and a made-for-plush dinosaur population.  

The more we thought about the movie afterward, the more we weren't sure we liked it.  I can't imagine that it will be on our "can we buy the DVD?" list.

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