Title: The Good Dinosaur
Director: Pete Sohn
Major Players: Voices of Frances McDormand, Anna Paquin, Sam Elliott
Out Of Five: 4.5
It’s not trending on Twitter – well, not yet, anyway – but it appears to be Disney Pixar Week. Yesterday saw the DVD release of Inside Out and on Friday it’s the turn of The Good Dinosaur to leave its footprints in cinemas. Inevitably, that invites some comparisons, but I won’t labour them.
It starts with a “what if?” What if that meteorite that crashed into the Earth millions of years ago and destroyed the dinosaurs had just whizzed across the night sky and landed somewhere else in the cosmos? What would Earth be like? And we get the answer – well, the answer according to Disney, anyway. Something approaching a dinosaur western.
For about the first third it’s Little Dinosaur On The Prairie. Arlo (Raymond Ochoa) is the youngest, smallest and most timid of three young dinosaurs hatched by Poppa (Jeffrey Wright) and Momma (Frances McDormand). They have a farm near the mountains, growing corn to live on but they’re also at the mercy of the elements. After a particularly vicious flood, Arlo finds himself marooned miles away from home and is befriended by a strange little creature who behaves like a dog, but seems determined to look after him. Arlo names him Spot and the two become inseperable as the young dinosaur seeks out his way home, as well as learning to face and overcome his fears.
If the first third is Little Dinosaur On The Prarie, the middle section is Dances With Dinosaurs, when Arlo is helped out by three T Rex, two teenagers and their grizzled dad, Butch. For a dinosaur that’s usually cast as a villain, this is something of a turnabout for the toothy hulk. It even replicates the scene from Dances With Wolves where Dunbar and the Sioux crawl on their stomachs to the top of a ridge to look down on a herd of buffalo. Here, it’s Arlo, Spot and the three T-Rex doing exactly the same, but to discover their missing herd of cattle.
The western analogy continues throughout the film. Listen to the soundtrack with its twanging banjos and guitars, very much reminiscent of movies set either in the wild or plain ol’ Midwest. And the T-Rex are portrayed as cowboys, especially dad Butch who is given the perfect voice for a rugged, scarred dinosaur: Sam Elliott, with that wonderful drawl that comes from the depths of his boots. It’s one of those wonderful instances where an animated character opens its mouth and the voice that comes out is an exquisite match. Nobody but Elliott has the voice for Butch.
Of course, we’re watching a Disney film, with all the morals and values that we expect, ones that are very much in tune with those of the old west. Family values, the importance of friendship, being brave even when you’re scared ….. they’re all there and that last one weaves throughout the film from start to finish because, from the moment that he first appears, Arlo is afraid of everything. So this isn’t as thought- provoking as Inside Out and, indeed, it doesn’t set out to be. It’s more traditional in its approach but will appeal to an equally broad audience.
On one level, however, it stands apart. This is a film that needs to be seen on the big screen so you can marvel at the quality of the animation, which is truly exceptional. I did a double take at the first shots of the river and the wind rippling through the grass because, for a split second, I thought I was watching the real thing, especially the water. I wasn’t fooled again, but I was still full of admiration for all the delicacy and skill. One of the biggest gripes about digital animation is that it can look stiff and artificial. Not here it doesn’t! Just take a look at the autumn leaves, floating on the breeze like tissue paper.
The Good Dinosaur is enchanting, a truly magical family film for the Christmas holiday. Admittedly, Disney has launched it early and in a crowded week at the cinema – competition comes in the shape of Carol and Black Mass – but this is the only piece of family fodder and it can’t fail to hang around until the holiday break at the very least. The animation is jaw-dropping, taking it to another level, and the overall film is funny, touching and deeply reassuring. Just don’t ask me if I blubbed!
The Good Dinosaur is released in cinemas on Friday, 27 November and will be reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 26 November.