The Good Dinosaur (3 stars)

The Good Dinosaur

Pixar’s latest follows a young dinosaur on an epic journey of friendship and discovery

After the helium-buoyed heights of Inside Out, Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur feels somewhat deflating, especially since it arrives so hot-on-the-heels of that deliriously imaginative and emotionally savvy animation; the disparity in quality is all the more surprising as the films share a screenwriter in Meg LeFauve. It imagines a world where dinosaurs escaped extinction, telling a stripped-back story of friendship and overcoming your fears.

The first act drags and the film feels conceptually odd as we’re introduced to an apatosaurus clan who tend their crops to the strains of bluegrass. We’re pointed toward the plight of young Arlo (voiced by Raymond Ochoa), one of three siblings, who’s afraid of chickens, ‘critters’ and pretty much everything else. When tragedy strikes and Arlo subsequently finds himself miles from the family farm he comes across an unexpected ally in the scratty Spot (Jack Bright), a tiny, chaotic boy with mutt-like loyalty and hunting skills.

Debut feature director Peter Sohn is Pixar through and through. The helmer of short Partly Cloudy, he’s a voice actor, artist and animator, and the inspiration for Russell, the boy from Up. If his first crack at steering the big ship is a little rocky he manages to steal the show with his voice-work as the spectacularly entertaining Forrest Woodbush (a character glimpsed briefly in Inside Out), an anxious, cross-eyed styracosaurus, who is like a walking pet shop. Also great are Sam Elliott as gruff tyrannosaurus Butch and Steve Zahn as a wicked pterodactyl named Thunderclap. Sadly, Jeffrey Wright and Frances McDormand – who voice Arlo’s parents – are squandered in bland roles.

While the imposing mountain ranges, rough rivers and lush plains are a thing of genuine wonder, some of the character design is a touch crude; however beautifully animated they are, Arlo’s family look like plasticine models plonked at the heart of a painstaking construction. And the thin story and initially sparsely populated world means that the moralising at first feels exposed and belaboured.

Yet as we get into the swing of Arlo and Spot’s journey there’s some welcome peril and eccentricity to balance out the life lessons, and the way the film wordlessly communicates the agony of losing family members is wonderfully kid-friendly and up there with the studio’s best work. With a heart as big as its prehistoric creations, The Good Dinosaur is a likeable if lesser Pixar, a slightly lumbering beast that takes time to find its footing.

General release from Fri 27 Nov.

The Good Dinosaur

  • 3 stars
  • 2015
  • US
  • 1h 40min
  • PG
  • Directed by: Peter Sohn
  • Cast: Voices of Lucas Neff, John Lithgow, Frances McDormand, Neil Patrick Harris, Judy Greer, Bill Hader
  • UK release: 27 November 2015

Set in a world in which the cataclysmic asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs had actually missed Earth and let them roam in peace, it's the tale of young Arlo (Ochoa), an apatosaurus who gets separated from his family and who teams up with mutt-like human boy Spot (Bright.) Debut director Sohn doesn't quite lift it to…