People expect a lot from Pixar movies. They expect them to be visually amazing, emotionally compelling and engaging for all ages. They expect them to deal with serious themes, to confront hard topics head-on, and to leave viewers thinking. When a Pixar movie does something less than that, it’s normally panned.
The problem is that sometimes stories don’t need that. They don’t need to have deep themes or intense emotions. Sometimes simple stories are enough.
Let’s be clear: I didn’t think The Good Dinosaur was great. It isn’t another Up, and it isn’t even another Inside-Out. But it is good, and it is worth watching.
The story follows Arlo, a young dinosaur who, after his father dies, sets out to make his mark on the world. The mark metaphor is given a tangible manifestation in a tower that Arlo’s dad built before he died. On the tower are the pawprints of his father and mother, and two siblings, all of whom have “made their mark.” Arlo wants his pawprint to join theirs.
Here, I feel, is the biggest difference between The Good Dinosaur and the majority of Pixar movies. The characters in most Pixar movies have tangible goals–Carl wants to get to Paradise Falls, Woody and Buzz want to get back to Andy, Joy wants to get back to headquarters so she can solve everything–but those goals are tweaked. Round-about halfway through many Pixar movies, the goals change. The change is subtle, but its real.
Often it comes through the main character realizing that they’re pursuing the goal improperly, or have misunderstood its significance. Carl realizes that getting to Paradise Falls, while perfectly fine, is really a refusal to move on and love someone else. Woody and Buzz realize, in Toy Story 3, at least, that they shouldn’t trying to get back to Andy, but to get back to some child. Joy realizes she can’t solve the problems, Sadness has to.
Nothing like that ever happens in The Good Dinosaur. Arlo tries to make his mark. That’s the movie.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with that. But going in you, the viewer, have to understand it. I don’t think this is Pixar’s deepest movie. It’s a simple movie about a young dinosaur trying to make his mark and teaching a cave-boy about the importance of family along the way.
The animation is gorgeous, the scene where Arlo tries to explain family without words (since Spot, the cave boy, can’t speak) is touching, and the animation is gorgeous. Did I mention the animation is gorgeous?
Simply put, The Good Dinosaur is good. It’s simple, it’s well told, and that’s it. There’s nothing wrong with that, and it can be enjoyable as long as you know what to expect going in.