GoodDinosaurcoverGrade: B-
Entire family: Yes
2015, 94 min., Color
Rated PG for peril, action, and thematic elements
Aspect ratio: 2.39:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 7.1
Bonus features: B+
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD
Amazon link

The Good Dinosaur is a good movie, but a weird one. How weird, you wonder?

Picture a dinosaur version of a western involving cattlemen and sodbusters, with vegetarian apatosauruses as the farmers, carnivore T-rexes wrangling prehistoric longhorns, and pterosaurs the rustlers.

Picture a dinosaur version of Jack London’s Call of the Wild, flipped upside-down so that the dog who eventually answers to the “call of the wild” is a prehistoric human that hasn’t learned to walk upright yet and acts a bit like Donnie from The Wild Thornberrys, while his “master” is an apatosaurus.

GoodDinosaurscreen2Picture a dinosaur version of The Lion King, with young apatosaurus Arlo getting a life lesson in one scene that shows him and his father looking skyward, while later we watch as the father pushes the son to safety when a calamity sweeps through the valley and (not really a spoiler if you’ve seen The Lion King) kills the father, who comes back in a vision when his young son needs him most.

Picture realistic backgrounds with an animated green dinosaur that will have you flashbacking to Pete’s Dragon.

And picture a dinosaur version of “ohana,” the lesson we learned about family from Disney’s Lilo & Stitch, with more pathos, overall, than humor.

The Good Dinosaur is still entertaining, but it’s less than what you’d expect from Pixar and more than a little weird. Just as unusual for a Disney-Pixar film, especially one that was in production for six years, is that there are so many déja vu moments. Pixar built a name for themselves by coming up with completely unique stories, so this more standard and familiar entry is a bit of a surprise. But families with young children especially won’t care.

Using photorealistic scenery and cartoonish characters, Disney-Pixar offers a story with themes about making a mark in the world, living up to parental expectations, and dealing with stronger, more accomplished siblings—all of which ought to resonate with young viewers. Child/teen actors Jack McGraw and Raymond Ochoa give voice to Arlo, the runt of a litter who has a hard time keeping up with his rambunctious brother (Ryan Teeple/Marcus Scribner) and sister (Maleah Padilla).

GoodDinosaurscreen3Poppa (Jeffrey Wright) and Momma (Frances McDormand) put their marks on the side of a stone silo they built to hold winter corn, and soon so do Buck and Libby. Only poor runty Arlo isn’t able to accomplish a task in order to make his mark. Encouraged by his father, he takes on the challenge of catching and killing the “varmint” that keeps stealing and eating their corn. Of course he can’t do it, because he’s the “good dinosaur”—a kind of prehistoric version of the old children’s book hero Ferdinand the Bull, who wanted to smell flowers rather than fight in the bullring. When Arlo is separated from his family and runs into that “varmint,” whom he names Spot (voiced by Jack Bright), an unlikely friendship develops that will also, of course, enable Arlo to finally prove himself while facing all sorts of dangers.

More strange than it is totally original, The Good Dinosaur is the kind of movie that will really appeal to children. Parents? Not nearly as much—though it’s easy to get lost in the film’s captivating art decoration, set design, and animation, all of which look terrific in Blu-ray.

Language: n/a
Sex: n/a
Violence: A head is ripped off a large bug, there’s a traumatic Lion-King style death, and the main character is in near-constant peril.
Adult situations: Like the intoxication scene in Dumbo the main character and his friend eat some bad fruit and hallucinate.
Takeaway: We’re so used to everything to come out of Pixar Studios being so extraordinary that when a good story instead of a great one comes along it’s a shock to the system, and maybe that’s unfair.