The Good Dinosaur Parent Review
The harsh conflicts audiences have to get through to the moments of warmth they are expecting may feel like Arlo's father's tough love. Scary scenes may be too much for young viewers.
If you have seen the promotional materials for Disney/Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur, then you will be familiar with a scene where the gangly plant eater and a scruffy human child, stare with wide-eyed wonder at a night sky filled with twinkling fireflies. While it is true that magical moment and some amazing animation appear in this film, it is hardly indicative of what viewers will see in the rest of the movie.
The plot presents an alterative timeline for Earth: one where the meteor that strikes the planet to cause the demise of the dinosaur age—misses. Instead, the various species continue to develop and evolve, eventually reaching a point where they begin domesticating the world around them. The long-legged Arlo (voiced by Raymond Ochoa and Jack McGraw) is born into such a family. Unlike his father (voice of Jeffrey Wright), the youngster is timid and not likely to be one of the fittest to survive in their harsh environment. So Dad sets out to teach his son how to get through his fears and discover the beauty that is waiting on the other side. Sadly the lesson doesn’t go quite as planned and the cowardly child ends up all alone and far from home. Now, whether he wants to or not, Arlo must muster the courage to man up or he will never find his way back. Fortunately he is befriended by a mangy little human (with great wilderness skills) to help him along his perilous journey.
What unfolds is a boy-and-his-dog story in disguise – meaning Arlo plays the role of the boy and Spot (his name for the loincloth-clad kid) is the dog. That twist constitutes almost all of the creativity this clichéd plot has to offer – which is a surprise given the genius usually associated with this studio’s work. The cuteness of the characters is also deceiving. Although they look like they could be some child’s bedtime toy (and stuffed replicas will be filling store shelves over the holiday season) the adventure they are about to embark upon quickly stomps out any ideas about this being appropriate entertainment for the five-year-old crowd.
Instead the unlikely buddies head into the kind of action adventure featured in a video game, where each level introduces a foe more formidable than the one before. Constantly in danger, the pair encounters Mother Nature’s fury poured out in rain, snow, floods and lightening storms. They play prey and predator games with vulture-like pterodactyls, meet carnivorous creatures that behave like cowboys, face off against feathered raptors and get stampeded by bison. Nor does the script shy away from uttered death threats and showing critters (ugly and cute) from being chomped.
Pauses in the pacing, where the plot should offer a few words of consolation to defuse the intensity of the experience for a young audience, are few and far between. And hints of humor may be more confusing than comical, especially when they include an hallucinogenic sort of experience after the characters eat some fermented fruit, or a bug’s head being bitten off.
The difference between the warm glow audiences will likely be expecting, and the harsh conflicts they have to get through to reach those brief messages of the importance of friends and family, may feel a lot like the tough love experience Arlo’s father was trying to share with his offspring—if you can get through all the scary stuff, there will be a beautiful moral to the story. Yet not all of the parents at the screening I attended were up to this endurance challenge. They simply took their crying tots out, and didn’t bother to come back. Some older children might be mature enough to appreciate the fright factor and even enjoy the action sequences. But those aren’t likely to be the same group marketers are going after with their line of playtime plushies. For good or ill, this mismatch will likely leave its mark on your little tikes and influence just how great you think this dinosaur may be.Directed by Peter Sohn. Starring Judy Greer, Neil Patrick Harris, Frances McDormand, Bill Hader. Running time: 100 minutes. Theatrical release November 25, 2015. Updated May 12, 2016
Get details on profanity, sex and violence in The Good Dinosaur here.
The Good Dinosaur Parents Guide
In the story, Pa encourages his children to “leave their mark” by doing something big for something bigger than his or herself. Why do you think he feels this is an important achievement? What kinds of tasks qualify? Why is it harder for some of the family members to accomplish this task than it is for others? How do you feel about setting goals for yourself and your family? When might this type of competition be healthy, and when might it be harmful?
From the Studio: The Good Dinosaur asks the generations-old question: What if the asteroid that forever changed life on Earth missed the planet completely and giant dinosaurs never became extinct? In theatres November 25, 2015, the film is a humorous and exciting original story about Arlo, a lively Apatosaurus with a big heart. After a traumatic event unsettles Arlo’s family, he sets out on a remarkable journey, gaining an unlikely companion along the way - a human boy. “The Good Dinosaur” is an extraordinary journey of self-discovery full of thrilling adventure, hilarious characters and poignant heart. Walt Disney Studios