|'At its heart, behind the farming dinosaurs and feral cavemen, this is a sincere story of a journey home, of growing up and - perhaps most of all - of companionship'.|
With 2015 seeing Pixar release two features in the same year for the first time in their history, the animation house perhaps inadvertently set up their latest pair of releases to be compared to each other more than most films in their back catalogue. In July, Inside Out proved to be a wonderful return to form for the studio after a brace of recent features that were generally well received but also criticised for feeling somewhat safer than their very best output. In that sense, 2015's second film from Pixar, The Good Dinosaur, in turn feels as though it has been condemned to being remembered as the film that isn't Inside Out.
From one perspective, it's arguably a justified position for the film to occupy; of the two, The Good Dinosaur is the relatively weaker film. But merely weighing Pixar's 2015 films against each other also feels like a gross and unfair oversimplification, being as they are two quite different pieces of cinema, and not just in their subject matter. Where Inside Out's brilliance comes through its ingenious presentation of a multilayered and intricate world, The Good Dinosaur's charm lies in its simplicity. At its heart, behind the farming dinosaurs and feral cavemen, this is a sincere story of a journey home, of growing up and - perhaps most of all - of companionship.
Where The Good Dinosaur occasionally falls down is in its tone. A couple of excursions into more surreal territory feel somewhat out of place, with one brief scene depicting Apatasaurus Arlo (Raymond Ochoa) and caveboy Spot (Jack Bright) eating some rotten fruit and going on a hallucinogenic spree feeling oddly jarring in particular. Whilst director Peter Sohn is clearly channelling classic Westerns throughout his film, a stretch of the story during which Arlo teams up with a family of buffalo-herding Tyrannosaurs perhaps feels as if it foregoes the more subtle approach to the genre seen throughout the rest of The Good Dinosaur a little too much. Thankfully, the presence of Sam Elliot as the voice of T. Rex patriarch Butch ensures the segment is always palatable despite Sohn's more obvious approach.
There are beats here strongly reminiscent of both The Lion King's father-son dynamic and How To Train Your Dragon's unlikely pairing of a boy and his companion. Whilst this does mean that The Good Dinosaur provides one of the least original stories to be found in the Pixar canon, it's admirable that Sohn ensures that the emotional heart of his film pulses fervently with authenticity and emotion throughout. The first act sets up the relationship between Arlo and his father Henry (Jeffrey Wright) note-perfectly, allowing the relationship between the young dinosaur and his adopted caveboy to grow organically and resonate wonderfully throughout the remainder of the film. At its emotional zeniths, of which there are a few, The Good Dinosaur will tug at your heartstrings with the same power and mastery as Pixar's very best.