The Good Dinosaur is Pixar’s best offering at the cinema this year. That’s right, Peter Sohn’s story of a young Apatosaurus named Arlo and his human dog, Spot, is the all ages movie of 2015. Despite the focus of the advertising, The Good Dinosaur is a family story in its heart of heart, rather than the story of a boy and his dog … or an Apatosaurus and his Homo Sapien.
Something else you may not know about The Good Dinosaur is that it is a Western - with all the most wonderful connotations that come along with that genre. For the American audience or fans of the American Western films, Arlo’s family lives in Death Valley, Colorado (where the dinosaur fossils come from!), and over the course of his hero’s journey Arlo and Spot pass through Monument Valley - where they also meet a Tyrannosaurus Rex named Butch voiced, most appropriately, by Sam Elliott.
Director Peter Sohn contributed to the writing of The Good Dinosaur along with Erik Benson, Kelsey Mann, Bob Peterson and Megan LeFauve (who ultimately penned the screenplay), and the team made some very intelligent and inspiring choices in which dinosaurs represented which aspects of frontier life - T-Rexes are ranchers, Apatosauruses are farmers - filling various roles in Arlo’s story along the way.
Actor Jeffrey Wright provides the voice of Poppa, the tragic figure of The Good Dinosaur. Wright brings excellent dialect work and tear-inducing emotion to the character who sets Arlo on his way. Despite the fact that his role is largely relegated to the beginning of the film Poppa’s influence can be felt throughout The Good Dinosaur. To borrow a phrase from the movie itself, Wright’s performance “makes his mark” on the audience’s hearts.
In addition to Wright, Raymond Ochoa brings the titular character of The Good Dinosaur - Arlo - to life. In the world of child actors Ochoa is truly talented and his youth serves to really ground Arlo in the real world. As the character with the most lines his deliveries are all very earnest, in the way of children, as well as Arlo’s confidence that blossoms across his physical and emotional journey.
The supporting cast of The Good Dinosaur fleshes out this alternate historic tale with the aforementioned Sam Elliott having Anna Paquin (sounding very much like she did in both True Blood and the X-Men franchise), and A.J. Buckley (fresh off his time on Justified), to fill out his rancher clan, Steve Zahn leading the villainous Pterodactyls and Frances McDormand playing opposite Jeffrey Wright as Arlo’s Mama. Everybody is well cast and on point, filling The Good Dinosaur with such human performances from anthropomorphized mouths that, guaranteed, will drive sentimental viewers to tears.
Every Pixar movie highlights and perfect different aspects in their animation (Brave and hair come immediately to mind), and The Good Dinosaur puts beautiful, natural landscapes on screen with a very special rendition of water in almost every scene. Rain is used the mirror Arlo’s emotional narrative - with a thunderstorm featuring as an integral plot point - and a river serving to both provide for Arlo’s family and take something integral away from it, in order to instigate the protagonist’s growth. The dinosaur scales are stunning, the trees and mountains are breathtaking, but the attention to detail the Pixar animators gave to water in The Good Dinosaur and their immaculate rendering of it across various forms is truly something wonderful to behold.
The Good Dinosaur challenges the viewers to find their place in the world, celebrate their families and examine the balance between nurturing and overbearing a child. It facilitates interspecies empathy through family, tugs at the heartstrings and uses freakin’ dinosaurs to do all this! Hands down, it is the best thing Pixar has offered up in 2015.