After a two year gap Pixar made a triumphant return to cinema screens with the magnificent Inside Out, funny, heartfelt, beautiful, clever, full of everything whilst being a very small adventure. And due to delays, which meant Pixar had the above-mentioned hiatus, The Good Dinosaur is the second film from the animation studio this year. It is always going to face the jury against the year's other Pixar film, and that might seem unfair but it's part of the Pixar tradition. Well, Brave is good, but it's no Finding Nemo. Well, Monsters University is good but it's no WALL-E. Well The Incredibles is good but it's no Toy Story. You can't win, and you can't avoid it, and The Good Dinosaur is good but... well... it's no Inside Out.
Arlo is a, one second I'll hit up a dictionary, encyclopedia and a previous interview with director Peter Sohn, an Apatosaurus, in a tight family of five evolved, sentient dinosaurs living in an Earth years after the famous meteor DIDN'T hit the planet. Arlo is the runt of a litter involving Libby, a smart, stealthy dino and Buck, the body-strong head-dumb elder brother. Within the family, Arlo is scared of everything and hindering all chores on their corn farm, and eventually is thrust into the fearful world beyond their quaint land, lost and injured and with only the companionship of a dog-like human child who responds to the name Spot. They take a journey to find their way home, and on the way meet various creatures and critters and help and hinder those who wish to do good and bad and that's the film. It's not much more than a road journey in a photo-realistic environment full of trees, rivers, grubs and grass.
Pixar do a great job with central relationships, Woody and Buzz, Dory and Marlin, Mike and Sully, WALL-E and EVE, Joy and Sadness, but there's something that never seems to begin with Arlo and Spot. The emotional peaks and troughs are affecting because the animation, the lighting, the music, the sound is great. But the script, the characterisations, it all feels a little hollow. There's something to be said for simplicity, absolutely, How To Train Your Dragon's simple storytelling allows for a warm heart and great comic moments, but The Good Dinosaur surrounds us with visuals that are stunning, with music by Thomas Newman that is soaring and gorgeous, but at the middle of the piece, Arlo and Spot in both character design and scripting feel half-hearted, a tad too cutesy and unevolved. And that means the void within the film is brutal and sucks a lot of the rest of the journey in with it. It's not until Sam Elliot's cowboy T-Rex roars in and ruffles a moustache of a voice into the film that things liven up, about an hour in.
The Good Dinosaur is fine. It's alright. It works for the most part. But it's so very minor a work of cinema that it's easily forgotten, nobody will call it peak Pixar and nobody will remember it as anything other than 'that other 2015 Pixar movie' which is a shame. It could have held its own or surprised us by being BETTER than Inside Out. But it's merely a sigh, a shrug, an hour and a half of fine.