The memory’s of Disney lovers are emblazoned with some of cinema’s most unforgettable images: the stormy sea battles of love in The Little Mermaid. Or Simba wandering through billowing dust to find his father lying motionless in The Lion King. It’s the bittersweet tragedy now synonymous with the period known as ‘the Disney Renaissance’ – the time that holds some of the studio’s most significant and adored films.
The Good Dinosaur takes more than a slight glance towards the studio’s classics, bringing its own, slightly cheesy ‘Believe in yourself!’ messages to the table. Not a bad thing, by any means, as we’re taken along on a young dinosaur’s journey of self-discovery with a scrawny, Neanderthal boy in tow. You know it’s another Disney/Pixar affair when that doesn’t sound utterly ludicrous.
It has been millions of years since the meteor (that was meant to wipe out the earth’s population of dinosaurs) simply passed through the sky without any sign of catastrophe. Meanwhile, a pair of farming Apatosaurus’ have welcomed a trio of young dino’s into the world; two of them almost instantly making their rambunctious mark. Then there’s Arlo, the tentative runt of the litter who’s too afraid to venture out of the gentle grasp of his father. Things change when disaster strikes, and Arlo is forced to confront his fear of the unexplored world.
Brimming with excitement and child friendly intellect, The Good Dinosaur literally jumps from the screen in a style that’s unlike anything Pixar have ever attempted before. Strikingly photorealistic, it’s a game-changer in the animation game. We’re reminded of that great cinematic moment James Cameron brought us with the motion capture masterpiece Avatar, as plant life and pools of crystal clear water ripple in the imaginary wind so brilliantly. In these moments, we forget that The Good Dinosaur isn’t a work of Space Jam style animation simply layered on top of real life but rather a slightly uncomfortable example of how fast the industry is moving forward.
The audience are welcome companions on this more than enjoyable journey, as Arlo encounters a number of prehistoric pals and Disney’ish danger along the way. As dark stormy clouds loom overhead and the river (once again) bursts its banks, we never grow tired of watching the young dinosaur and his ratty, humanoid sidekick Spot spin through murky waters, further away from home. Scenes like these are beautifully choreographed, but maybe that’s one of The Good Dinosaur’s fundamental flaws: despite the danger, the trip seems uninspiringly straight forward.
It lacks the scriptural imagination that makes Pixar’s most famous work their most respected. In the past, we’ve been bowled over by the tender family relationships in Finding Nemo and the understanding of our emotions in Inside Out. A large part of enjoying The Good Dinosaur’s is reliant on its visual beauty. Wide eyed, adorable critters pop up on more than one occasion, bringing no real substance to the story, instead feeling like ideal merchandising fodder for the film’s young audience.
That’s the irrefutable flaw here. Admittedly, it’s a big one, but in true studio style it doesn’t retract from what perhaps matters most: the enjoyable nature of the whole thing. We still root for little Arlo and shed tears at his most touching and vulnerable moments. It’s just a shame that its tinges of slight brilliance are overshadowed by its unoriginal ideas.
The Good Dinosaur is released in UK cinemas on November 27th