Set in an alternate universe timeline, two dinosaur farmers, Henry (Jeffrey Wright) and Ida (Frances McDormand), raise three children: Libby (Maleah Padilla), Buck (Marcus Scribner), and main character, Arlo (Raymond Ochoa). While Libby and Buck easily copes with life on the farm, Arlo’s cowardly nature makes his tasks challenging for him.
In order to give Arlo a sense of purpose, Henry puts Arlo in charge of guarding their food store against pests and helping him set up traps. One day, a trap manages to capture a caveboy, Spot, but Arlo is too reluctant to kill the caveboy and instead, sets him running free. This is where the plot thickens and the adventure begins for Arlo and Spot.
Filmmaker Bob Peterson who conceived the idea felt that it was time to do a movie where we get to know the dinosaur, what it’s really like to be a dinosaur and to be with a dinosaur. In a way, this was subtly achieved. The breathtaking visual settings in The Good Dinosaur created a surreal environment where the 3D animation film takes on a new level of “believability” of how dinosaurs might have lived. After all, Pixar could do it by breathing humanity into Cars, this is no exception.
As with all Pixar movies of late, character development seems to be the central plot device of choosing. We see as Arlo eventually plucks up courage and makes the decision that defines him, opting to go back to save his friend Spot, who has been captured by the terrifying Pterodactyls. The transition of hatred to love, fear to bravery is well-paced and pivotal.
The breakout character for The Good Dinosaur has to be the female tyrannosaurus, Ramsey (Anna Paquin), because she’s atypical of a carnivorous T-Rex, being extremely warm and funny. Her role in the show is a hands down winner (which I doubt can happen with her short fore “legs”). Her role in assisting Arlo and Spot throughout the show, was impressive in breaking stereotypes.
If there was one part I could change about the movie, it may have been the notion of “family”, truly defined by the circle in the sand. It would have had much more impact if Spot had gone to live with Arlo’s family (who welcomes and forgives him) so as to represent that family doesn’t have to be blood-related, but the people who truly accept and love you just the way you are.
Overall, why pick a human to act like a dog for a dinosaur? The filmmakers wanted to explore what dinosaurs represent today, and how they are represented in stereotypes. Spot is cute and loyal but the owner and pet relationship role reversal stood out as odd, and did not clearly lead anywhere. It feels like a hidden message that we (humans) should not be dogs that obey every word that someone bigger than us tells us to do. Yet, they become best of friends anyway.
The Good Dinosaur crosses off every aspect of a Pixar movie for it’s feel good moments and touching storyline through Arlo and Spot. The 3D effects seemed to be turned up here, the additional depth was used to good effect and enhanced the visual storytelling, while usually more headspinning for me, it was applied with real purpose.