Considering that Disney loosed critics to enthuse about “Inside Out” a month before its release, the lack of advance screenings for “The Good Dinosaur,” the year’s second Pixar joint, has been a mite worrying to outside observers. An indeed, as the first trade reviews agree, it’s not up to that critically beloved movie’s standards, even if second-tier Pixar is still better than most other studios’ first. The behind-the-scenes turmoil that caused Pixar to lay off animators working on the long-delayed film may not be evident on screen, but it’s more modest in ambition — narratively, if not visually — than some of Pixar’s other movies. The Hollywood Reporter calls it “safely benign” by comparison with “Inside Out,” and Variety says it’s “clever and cloying by turns.” The most positive notice comes from The Wrap’s Inkoo Kang, who hails it as a vibrant original that stands out from Pixar’s upcoming raft of franchise sequels. The movie opens in theaters on November 25.
Reviews of “The Good Dinosaur”
Justin Chang, Variety
Serving up a sweet tale of interspecies friendship and a stunning prehistoric vision of the American Northwest, “The Good Dinosaur” is easily one of the great landscape films of 2015, even if what unfolds against that landscape isn’t always as captivatingly rendered. Pixar’s 16th animated feature centers around a boy-and-his-beast dynamic that will strike some of the same audience chords DreamWorks did with “How to Train Your Dragon,” albeit with a crucial reversal of perspective this time around. That largely successful gambit turns out to be the boldest stroke in a picture that, for all its signature visual artistry, falls back surprisingly often on familiar, kid-friendly lessons and chatty anthropomorphic humor. Clever and cloying by turns, it’s a movie that always seems to be trying to evolve beyond its conventional trappings, and not succeeding as often as Pixar devotees have come to expect.
A our homeward-bound heroes near their respective destinations, “The Good Dinosaur” seems to falter and lose its way — and then, in almost the same moment, to find it again. Its lush, classical storytelling lapses into familiar beats and payoffs, en route to an outcome as certain as the recurrence of Mychael and Jeff Danna’s often distractingly Tolkien-esque score. But predictability can have its pleasures, too, and it’s hard not to feel a gentle surge of emotion as Arlo learns his lesson in courage — not least the courage of befriending another soul. Cross-species bonding may have its limits, but it’s hard not to find beauty in a boy-meets-beast saga that, by the end, has made it hard to tell which is which.
Michael Rechtschaffen, Hollywood Reporter
Following in the footsteps of the truly inspired Inside Out, this year’s second Pixar effort can’t help but feel safely benign by comparison, and although it contains some darker, more intense moments, it will likely skew to younger, dino-obsessed Thanksgiving holiday audiences. In his feature debut, director Peter Sohn, who took over the reins from the story’s originator, Bob Stevenson, keeps this prehistoric western amiably engaging. But while there are some lively departures, including a sequence in which Arlo and Spot sample some hallucinogenic fruits, their episodic adventure tends to stick with the road most traveled. Though the tricky third act that originally concerned John Lasseter apparently remained a hard nut to crack for screenwriter Meg LeFauve and numerous story contributors, the production’s photo-real naturalism is a true bar-raiser. Those CG-rendered backdrops, taking their visual cues from Yellowstone’s waterfalls to Montana’s grasslands, bring that custom Pixar cutting-edge technology into an exciting, new, wondrous place. Hopefully next time the storytelling won’t dwell so much in the past.
Inkoo Kang, The Wrap
“The Good Dinosaur” arrives saddled with two potential liabilities: an 18-month delay after dozens of layoffs at Pixar last year, and the unenviable status of being the follow-up to “Inside Out,” one of the best films the animation studio has ever produced.
But none of that matters, for first-time helmer Peter Sohn and screenwriter Meg LeFauve (“Inside Out”) have created a fantastic and frequently exhilarating feature that showcases Pixar’s greatest strengths: technical brilliance, emotional texture, crossover appeal, and an impish sense of humor that takes the utmost advantage of the animated form. In addition to letting me cathartically sob my eyes out (always a plus), the survivor’s tale and family/pet/coming-of-age drama showed me images I’d never seen before and perfected scenes that I have seen in other films. “The Good Dinosaur” isn’t just a holiday treat, but an experience to be savored. When Pixar does what it does best like this, the result is so marvelously and excitingly imaginative that it’s impossible not to feel let down that four of its five announced productions for the future are sequels. For all the trouble it had getting to the screen, “The Good Dinosaur” is a triumph of creativity. Too bad the studio’s business plan is as derivative as they come.