Pixar has lost its individuality. Don’t get me wrong, the beloved studio still makes ambitious films. Inside Out was one of the most conceptually ambitious films I have ever seen. What I mean is it is becoming more and more common for Pixar films to look and feel like films produced by other studios. Brave is How to Train You Dragon, The Good Dinosaur feels like a recycled Ice Age plot line and Cars 2 feels about as bold and exciting as that Fox film about the racing snail. Pixar is no longer the king of the CGI world. Even films being produced under Disney’s regular ‘ol Animation Department are rivaling Pixar. Anyone see Big Hero 6? I cried for days.
I wonder if the problem stems from Pixar releasing a movie almost every year. Every day there is more and more competition. Pixar has to release a film every year if they want to go head to head with other studios and remain relevant. I wonder if this has led to Pixar speeding up certain projects when they weren’t ready? This seemed likely in the case of The Good Dinosaur. Apparently, the film switched around its story and cast members until they found something they liked. You can’t help but wonder what the original film was like, and whether the film, we were left with is any better.
The Good Dinosaur is the plot of every children’s book ever written. A character is uncertain of themselves, gets lost, gains a spunky sidekick, has to find their way home and learns a lesson. Even Finding Nemo took the lost premise and put a spin on it by having a father as the main character. The Good Dinosaur’s grain of originality lies in the fact the film is set in a world where the dinosaurs were never wiped out. Though all this means is the dinosaurs are the dominant species when humans arrive and farm crops and tend to the cattle.
Something is missing from this setup. I loved watching Arlo and his family planting seeds and watering crops in inventive ways, but after the first few scenes, this element is completely absent. Not until we meet some T-Rex ranchers later on do we get another glimpse of how dinosaurs have evolved socially and domestically. I need more. How about a primitive dinosaur city? Traditions, customs or holidays? Religion, even? These would have been fascinating concepts to explore. But no, we get a homesick dinosaur being scared by lighting and mean pterodactyls.
Wasted opportunity aside, The Good Dinosaur is competent on a scene by scene basis. If there’s a heart to any scene, Pixar will find it. You care about Arlo and his human sidekick Spot’s relationship. You feel for Arlo’s loss in the death of his father. You care about the outcome. The problem is it’s a story that’s already been done and been done better. Just being “good” isn’t good enough. Not when you’re Pixar.
Should you, a regular ‘ol average Joe or Jane see this movie? If you love beautiful animation, then yes. If you hate lazy storytelling, then No. The Good Dinosaur is frustrating because its close to being something special. I laughed, I cried, I cared, but I didn’t think. Pixar is supposed to make you think. They made a whole film about thinking. Let’s hope they think a little harder on whatever they give us next.