To put it simply, The Good Dinosaur is a western that uses dinosaurs instead of humans as the main characters. In fact, this is a very, very clichéd western, right down to the use of Sam Elliot to do voice work. The story involves the weak son of a noble farmer who must prove that he can live up to his father’s expectations and ends up in a survival film as he must find his way home through a dark and evil wilderness.
The story opens with the birth of the main character, Arlo, and his sister Libby and brother Buck. Their parents, Henry and Ida, are Apatosauruses. They live in a world where the dinosaurs were never wiped out and continued to, uh, evolve I guess (this is part of the problem with the film... it’s not clear what changed except that these particular dinosaurs are farmers).
Arlo, of course, can’t bring himself to kill the human, and the human escapes. Henry then takes Arlo and chases after the human cave boy. They chase him up into some evil looking mountains, which end up flooding. The flood kills Henry and leaves Arlo stranded far away from home. Arlo then finds and befriends the human, who acts like little more than a puppy (he can’t even speak). The rest of the story is Arlo’s journey to find his way back to the farm.
This movie has a lot of problems, quite frankly.
The first problem is the simple blown potential. The trailer to this film was intensely clever. It asked, what would happen if the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs missed the Earth? And then you see the asteroid shoot by the planet and all the dinosaurs who had looked up at its approach return to their grazing. This trailer offered limitless potential. It opened the door to anything. It promised a world where dinosaurs had evolved to something beyond just being dinosaurs. It promised a world where man and dinosaurs co-existed in some friendly or hostile way. It promised something you had never seen before. The film even skips a few million years at the opening, suggesting that we would see dinosaur society evolved into the modern world... whatever that would look like.
But none of that happened.
Instead, you get a world that is indistinguishable from dinosaur times except for the presence of one cave-boy and the existence of one dinosaur farm. That’s it. What a waste.
Pixar is an amazing company that does a great job with its movies time and again, but this one is a total miss. This one is entirely unsatisfying. It’s boring, indifferent, and just out of place. And that’s too bad given the amazing potential the backstory suggested.