The Good Dinosaur *****
Directed by Peter Sohn; written by Meg Le Fauve
Starring Rymond Ochoa, Steve Zahn, Frances McDormand, Anna Paquin, Sam Elliot, Jack Bright
Sixty-five million years ago an asteroid hit Earth and determined the extinction of dinosaurs… But what if it had missed our planet completely? This story takes place a few million years after the averted catastrophe, as dinosaurs still inhabit Earth and have evolved with it. Young Arlo is one of them and lives in the family farm with his parents and brothers, until one day, while following an annoying pest (that turns out to be a human baby), he ends up miles away from home. He has to embark on a dangerous journey to reunite with his family, as he and the little human become friends…
The Good Dinosaur came out just after – at least in Italy ‑ the revolutionary and critically acclaimed Inside Out and it is destined to suffer by comparison with its smart and brilliant predecessor, very much like those siblings born after the family genius.
But it would be a mistake to simplistically compare these last two Pixar products. Arlo’s innocent and rather straightforward parable is similar to Joy and Sadness’ crazy adventures, much as The Searches should be compared to a Woody Allen movie (his good work, not his latest one).
Despite a far from perfect and at times naïve script, above all at the beginning (this may be due to a sudden change of director), The Good Dinosaur wins over the affection and attention of adults and children. This Pixar movie definitely, despite the usual richness of cinematic and literary reference, speaks to a young audience. However, it does not shy away from the ugly realities of life, and its ending reaches a pinnacle of poetry and emotions.
The genre that comes to mind, above all when looking at the magnificent cinematography of its landscape, is the most classic of westerns. Think of the use of wide space; the necessary challenges that force a hero to mature; wild nature, which proves itself to be beautiful but ruthless; enemies to face and unexpected allies.
Peter Sohn’s movie does not only remind us of John Ford and John Wayne, but also evokes literature, from Heart of Darkness (the predatory pterodactyls recall Conrad), The Yearling (which became a movie with Gregory Peck) and the works of Jack London, from White Fang to The Call of the Wild. The geniality of Sohn’s film is that the wild puppy is not the animal, but the human child; the dynamic between the two is flawless.
Naturally Pixar has more than a few Disney echoes (from The Lion King to Dumbo) and it even winks at Jurassic Park (which is inevitable given the topic, even if here the velociraptor, cattle thieves, are philologically correct and plumed) and Spielberg’s Jaws.
This is all to say that the charming simplicity of The Good Dinosaur is more illusory than real, despite the arc of Arlo, a clumsy and fearful dinosaur, overcoming his fears being not a particularly original one. The story is punctured by moments of authentic and unexpected depth, often carried out by images and action rather than words. Such is the case of the two orphans confiding in each other the loss of their families or sharing an emotional goodbye (please bring tissues).
The Good Dinosaur is, among many things, a coming of age story on the elaboration of loss, the essential role of fathers, and the birth of a friendship.
A final and not so surprising gem is the short that precedes the movie, in the best Pixar tradition. In a time when religion is under fire and its relevance attacked, this movie provides a surprisingly different point of view.
Problematic Elements: a few emotionally challenging scenes for the little ones.