What’s great about Pixar is they have built such a dependable brand over the years audiences will give them enough latitude to tell a good story without the pressure to cram in a joke a minute or pander to pint-sized audience members.
The latest film to come from the venerable animation studio is “The Good Dinosaur” and it proves this point perfectly. The movie builds slowly and treads in some formulaic territory, but it is played out with such a high degree of competency it still manages to feel fresh, vibrant, and satisfying.
The setup is as high-concept as it gets, but the story plays out with the dependability of a 1950s matinee. “The Good Dinosaur” imagines a world where the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago simply whizzed past the planet allowing dinosaurs to continue to evolve to the point where they’ve developed a society that vaguely resembles the Old West.
We meet a family of brachiosaurs where Poppa (Jeffrey Wright), Momma (Frances McDormand), Buck (Marcus Scribner), Libby (Maleah Nipay-Padilla), and Arlo (Raymond Ochoa) work their humble farm.
Arlo is the runt of the family and struggles to overcome his fear of pretty much everything to try to become a valued member of the clan.
Arlo seems to be a lost cause until tragedy sweeps him away from his home and out into the wilderness where his best chance for survival is in the unlikely friendship he forms with a feral human boy he names Spot (Jack Bright).
Arlo and Spot encounter all manner of wonders and dangers out in the wild and they cross paths with other dinosaurs who, at first glance, you are never sure if they are going to be helpful or dangerous. The highlight is a family of t-rex ranchers, led by Butch (Sam Elliott), who drive their herd-like cowboys perched in their saddles.
The themes of overcoming fear, serving the greater good, and understanding the value of family are served up as direct and forthright as in any classic Western.
It almost goes without saying the animation is stunningly beautiful and director Peter Sohn finds the perfect mix of humor and emotion that makes this movie a joy to watch.
Pixar’s relentless quality has reached a point where the delivery of great family entertainment has almost become routine. It’s almost easy to take for granted a movie like “The Good Dinosaur,” as it rates as a squarely average Pixar film. But when you consider their “average” is the rest of the world’s “triumphant greatness,” it becomes clear this is not a movie you would want to miss.
“The Good Dinosaur” is rated PG for peril, action, and thematic elements.