By the time The Good Dinosaur released on Thanksgiving weekend, most of us animation fans were clutching our tickets in eager anticipation. What else would we be doing? Pixar just came off of a VERY high point with Inside Out, a huge critical and commercial success. Sure, we knew that The Good Dinosaur went back under the knife due to story problems. However, we knew that Pixar’s story crew (not to mention the fabled Pixar Braintrust) did heavy work on the story and finally deemed it ready to grace audiences. On top of that, we saw the trailers and how beautiful they were. So, yes, we were anxious to see the film.
Then the reviews started to come in. If I had to describe the overall tone of the reviews in one word, it would be “lukewarm.” None of the reviews were particularly bad (okay, maybe one or two were), but almost all of them had a caveat or two attached to them. Heck, even my initial review did.
Now, don’t get me wrong; there’s certainly nothing wrong with having reservations about a movie. That’s part of a critic’s job. However, I feel that a few of the largest objections are somewhat silly and/or unfair. In this article, I’d like to discuss what I perceive as the three biggest objections to The Good Dinosaur and why I think they’re invalid.
Criticism #1: The Dinosaurs Look Too Fake
This is the most well-grounded of these three criticisms, but it still deserves a place here. This critique boils down to this: Arlo, Spot, and all the other characters look fake against the photo-realistic backgrounds. These allegations are particularly heavy against Arlo and the T-rex family; most critics say that they have a plastic, action figure-like quality that could pull audiences out of the story.
I have to admit that Arlo and his dinosaur friends do look a little plastic. However, I don’t feel like that is the real issue here. The bigger problem is suspension of disbelief. In the world the filmmakers created in The Good Dinosaur, all dinosaurs have a toy-like quality. It’s not something that needs to be explained; it’s just the way things are in this film’s world. Once we can accept that part of the movie’s world, the characters’ looks cease to be a problem.
Now, you could say that the filmmakers didn’t get you into the right state of mind. That’s perfectly fine. That’s your opinion, and I can’t argue with that. Personally, however, I had no problem buying into Arlo’s design. I was able to lift the weight of my disbelief and keep it up in the air for the whole length of The Good Dinosaur.
Criticism #2: The Story Isn’t Original
The second most common criticism I’ve heard (and one that I had in my original review) is that the story isn’t fresh or original. Critics who wield this critique take Pixar to task for lifting story elements from movies like The Lion King, Born Free, and scores of western movies. This argument isn’t an unfair one; I can totally see where these critics are coming from. It is a fairly silly criticism, though.
Borrowing story elements isn’t new territory for Pixar. The whole plot of A Bug’s Life is lifted directly from movies like The Magnificent Seven and Three Amigos!. WALL-E borrows plot points from sci-fi movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Silent Running. A full third of Toy Story 3 is modeled after every prison break movie you’ve ever seen. Does this borrowing make these great Pixar movies any less great? I don’t think so, for these movies managed to take these classic elements and make something unique out of them.
A person could call The Good Dinosaur a lot of things, but one definitely couldn’t call it unoriginal. A movie about dinosaurs who raise crops, go on cattle drives, and talk like Sam Elliott? Definitely not something you see every day. Sure, the basic plot structure is something we’ve seen hundreds of times. It works, though. Pixar’s story crew did a great job taking classic, tried-and-true story elements and creating something we’ve never seen before.
Criticism #3: It’s Not As Good As Pixar’s Other Work
This is definitely the most common complaint I’ve seen, and it’s also the most unfair. Essentially, this criticism boils down to comments like this:
“The Good Dinosaur is good, but it’s not as good as what Pixar has done before.”
“We’ve really come to expect more from Pixar.”
In my mind, the jury’s still out on whether we should compare movies at all when we review them. After all, movies aren’t made to compete with each other; they’re made to stand as separate works of art. That’s another discussion for another time, though. I definitely have a problem, however, with being harder on Pixar than we are on other studios.
I can understand why critics hold Pixar to a higher standard. After all, Pixar does have a better track record than a lot of other studios. However, it’s not right to rate a movie lower than one usually would just because it came from Pixar. That’s not fair to The Good Dinosaur, Peter Sohn, the other filmmakers, or Pixar.
Pixar is not infallible. It’s run by human beings, and human beings make mistakes. Therefore, the studio is bound to hit a snag or two. We shouldn’t judge Pixar’s follies more harshly than other studios’s faults, just because Pixar has a cleaner record.
Do I think that The Good Dinosaur is a masterpiece? I honestly have to say that I don’t. The movie has some flaws that are hard for me to get around. I do think it’s a decent film, though, and that it deserves a fairer treatment than it’s been getting. If you want to critique The Good Dinosaur, fine. Do it properly, though!
What do you think? Is The Good Dinosaur being judged too harshly? Why or why not?
Edited by: Hannah Wilkes