Making a film at Pixar must be like having an older sibling who has won everything, achieved all their goals, and been living a rich and happy life. Straight away, you’re expected to measure up to that. Notwithstanding the fact that The Good Dinosaur was a film originally set to release a good year before this year’s Inside Out, its delay to November 2015 has left it following Pixar’s best film in years.
The comparisons have not been kind.
However, surely it’s fairer to place The Good Dinosaur against the other animated family films around in cinemas at the moment. Compared to something like Hotel Transylvania 2, The Good Dinosaur is like stepping into a lighter, brighter better place where people care a lot more. But still, it’s a little way down the list of 2015’s best family features.
The setup is dealt with quickly, and shows a trust for the audience that The Good Dinosaur doesn’t always follow through on. The meteorite that supposedly struck the Earth and wiped out the dinosaurs misses, and thus we move forward a few million years, to see them still roaming the Earth, even as other species – humans, specifically – begin to evolve.
Taking fragments of stories that we’ve seen told many times before, The Good Dinosaur centres on Arlo, the smallest and youngest of his family, and thus the one with the most to prove. Can he show courage, face his fears, and put his footprint on the silo to mark all of this? Well, y’know.
It’s little secret that The Good Dinosaur has undergone significant retooling at Pixar over the past 18 months. In that sense, it’s trodden a not dissimilar path to Ratatouille, where a directorial alteration was made late in the day, as the film galloped towards a release date. In this instance, The Good Dinosaur was afforded a delay to buy it more time to get things right. Which makes it curious that the story itself is breaking nowhere near as much ground as the technicals, something you could never say about Ratatouille.
In fact, narratively, The Good Dinosaur barely offers anything new.
Furthermore, its character base is strangely shy of dinosaurs, but also, strangely shy of many who make any kind of real impact. It all adds to up a coherent whole, which in itself is not the problem. It’s just a strangely muted coherent whole. That ‘coherent whole’ doesn’t push for more.
Still, on the technical side, there’s no short of progress. The Good Dinosaur looks – and sounds – stunning, with animation that’s hard to find any obvious fault in. On the biggest screen you can find, The Good Dinosaur is a visual treat, with some genuinely amazing sequences.
And yet. This is quite a harsh movie at times, with a fully earned PG rating, yet conversely, it also feels like it’s aimed young. A crucial moment is replayed in flashback, for instance, as if the filmmakers don’t trust the audience to remember it, or its significance.
By the end, I’d enjoyed The Good Dinosaur, but was yearning for the charm, the identity and the character of something like Shaun The Sheep, which plays to a similar audience with far more obvious confidence and effect. For it’s not that The Good Dinosaur doesn’t measure up against Pixar’s catalogue, it’s that it doesn’t do enough to break it out of the peloton of features that are screening at your local cinema’s kids’ club every Saturday morning.
The short film that proceeds it, Sanjay’s Super Team? That’s the piece you’re most likely to be talking about. The Good Dinosaur? It’s a film I’ll gladly watch again, and it’s a must when the Blu-ray comes around and have you have a new telly to show off. I just might give the tie-in storybook a miss.