When Pixar Animation Studios burst on the scene in 1995 with “Toy Story,” the first-ever fully computer-animated feature film, audiences were dazzled with endearing characters, a heartfelt story, memorable writing, solid storytelling and mind-boggling animation.
Fifteen Academy Awards since, Pixar has continued to make great films, like “Finding Nemo” and “The Incredibles.”
Even after Disney bought Pixar in 2006, the studio continued to make great movies, like “Up” and the more recent “Inside Out,” which deserves to be Pixar’s 16th Oscar-winner.
“The Good Dinosaur,” however, does not deserve to be on that list.
The premise of the film is clever enough: 65 million years ago, the dinosaurs did not suffer an extinction-level event and eventually evolved into intelligent, speech-capable creatures with an agricultural society. At a time when humans are only about as evolved as household dogs, one curious human inadvertently brings about the death of a dino-family father and the separation of the youngest dino-son, who gets lost in the wilderness. Dino-son must then set off on a journey to forgive the curious human and find his way back home.
The skeleton of this story is solid enough (evolution debate aside), and the animation is nothing short of phenomenal – I mean, brilliant, captivating, unable to tell what’s real and what’s computer-generated, and if the entire film was animated … wow. Just wow.
But unlike those other great movies, “Toy Story,” “Up,” and others, animation and a skeleton is all Disney seemed to want to invest in “The Good Dinosaur.”
The characters are shallow, the writing simplistic, the humor too sparse, the action too heavy … and the story is just not up to par.
The magic of Pixar’s other hits was not just the animation, but the characters and stories, which separate Pixar films from “Bugs Bunny” and “Tom and Jerry,” making them legitimate feature films – animated or not.
“The Good Dinosaur” is little more than a really well-animated cartoon.
As for its worldview, the moral of the story is positive, but also a bit simplistic: A call to courage summarized by the line, “You can’t get rid of fear, but you can get through it.”
There are some other, positive proverbs littered in, like, “You earn your mark [on the world] by doing something bigger than just for yourself,” and, “Sometimes you gotta get through your fear to see the beauty on the other side,” but instead of an emotionally complex character wrestling with forgiveness and fear on a journey to get back home, the process gets shortchanged.
Don’t get me wrong: The movie is cute, and really pretty … it’s just not great. And we’ve come to expect greatness from Pixar.
But I also have to issue a few other cautions. For starters, there are moments in this film – and especially in the animated short that precedes the movie – that are terrifying and could easily be too much for small children.
The other major caution is the religious content. There are some pterodactyls in the movie that follow major storm systems with a depicted religious fervor, reveling in how the storm “swept me up and gave me a ‘relevation'” and testifying to how “the Storm provides!” The filmmakers were clearly and intentionally spoofing a revival-tent sort of Pentecostal Christianity.
But when it’s revealed these Pentecostal pterodactyls actually mean “the Storm provides” trapped animals for them to “save” by eating them, and when the pterodactyls become the film’s primary villains, that spoofing starts to look a lot more like lampooning.
Even more troublesome, is the animated short that immediately precedes the film, “Sinjay’s Superteam.” The story takes place in a Hindu household, where the father kneels before his prayer box, but his son resists joining him. But then the boy has a vision of the Hindu gods coming to life and battling a Hindu demon, thus seeing the gods like his new, favorite superheroes.
On one hand, it’s a touching story of a son adopting his father’s faith. On the other hand, my Christian faith teaches these Hindu gods are not only pagan, but demonic. And no review on the worldview of a film would be complete without caution over glamorizing a pagan religion.
One of the questions I ask when facing troublesome content in a film is, “Does the movie contain enough redeeming value to warrant watching?”
And with an underdeveloped story and simplistic moralizing, the answer in the case of “The Good Dinosaur” is … no.
- “The Good Dinosaur,” rated PG, contains neither profanity nor obscenity, though there is a case of near obscenity cut off.
- The only nudity or sexuality is the human child’s sparse dress, in little more than a loincloth.
- The film does have a few scenes of battle and intense natural disaster, including a lightning storm, landslide and fatal flash flood. Characters repeatedly struggle to stay alive after being sucked into a raging river. Several dinosaurs fight at one point or another, and one dinosaur tells the story of battling a crocodile, which he defeated by “drowning it in my own blood.” There is one gruesome scene where a child pulls the head off a giant beetle.
- Outside of the film’s evolutionary premise, there is no overt religious or occult content in the feature film, though as the review above explains, there are some characters that seem to critically lampoon Pentecostal Christianity and an animated short film preceding the movie with extensive religious and occult imagery and themes.