The Good Dinosaur
He used to think life on his family's farm was scary.
OK, it admittedly isn't that frightening for every Apatosaurus homesteader. Most of them are pretty big and strong, even by outsized dino standards. But it sure was a flinch-worthy experience for Arlo. He's the runt of his family, you see, and everything seems to feel threatening to him. I mean, have you ever stood right next to those prehistoric chickens he had to feed? They're huge!
Right about now, though, Arlo would gladly give anything to just be back on that fearsome farm being chased by those nasty, half-plucked birds. Because where he is now is so much scarier!
While he was pursuing a corn-stealing critter, he accidentally fell into the quick-moving river near his family's land and was washed miles away in a matter of seconds. Now he can't even see the peaks of the jagged mountain range that rises above their spread. He's that far away. That lost. And really, really afraid.
His big-hearted father always tried to help him work through his lack of, well, everything. Poppa believed in him. "You've got to earn your mark by doing something bigger than yourself," Poppa would say as he wrapped his tail around Arlo. "You've got to get through your fear to see the beauty on the other side." And when Arlo worried that he just wasn't like his dad—not big enough, not strong enough, not brave enough—Poppa would simply shake his head and smile. "You're me plus more," the big dino would rumble.
No disrespect to his poppa, who he loved and sadly lost in a violent, churning storm, but Arlo doesn't feel like he's more of anything. Except for this little feral human critter who keeps running around near him, scratching and howling at the moon, he's all alone and feeling a bit hopeless.
But if he's going to earn his mark, like his father hoped he would, he has to do something. He has to work through his fear. He has to get his legs to stop shaking! As for the beauty on the other side, well … I guess at this point, not getting eaten is kind of beautiful.
Arlo and his human pet—who Arlo names Spot—eventually establish a close friendship as Arlo comes to realize that the "critter" is more than he appears to be. They form a close bond and put their lives on the line to protect each other on a journey of self-discovery.
Part of that revelation—or relevation, as it's said here—unfolds as they learn to communicate and share their mutual longing for the love and closeness of a family. (Spot reveals that both his parents were killed.) Later, after meeting a human family in their travels, Arlo pushes Spot to join the family and gain the closeness he so desperately desires. (The Croods-like people embrace the boy and welcome him in.)
[Spoiler Warning] Arlo fights on to reach his home, finding that he is able to push past his fear for those he loves. In a dream, his father voices his approval of Arlo's self-sacrificial choices. And when the young dino reaches his goal, his family members joyously rush to him.
While tying the idea of evolution into a few funny knots, the movie still seems to calmly accept that mankind must have evolved from prehistoric "critters." (And that it's only a cosmic accident dinos didn't do us one better.)
An emotional scene shows Poppa being engulfed by raging floodwaters after he tosses Arlo to safety. And there are also a number of other scary moments. Threatening dinos with sharp, gnashing teeth gulp down a small, wounded creature or two; and they chase Arlo and Spot more than once. The two friends are forcefully thumped against sharps branches and underwater rocks. (They're knocked unconscious.)
Spot rips the head off an enormous wriggling bug with his teeth. He gobbles up several other smaller ones. He fiercely takes on a couple of menacing animals with his teeth, biting a hole in a pterodactyl's wing at one point. The stumble-prone Arlo regularly falls and thumps his head or body against large rocks.
While characters compare scars, a T. rex "cowboy" tells a Wild West-style story of facing off with a group of crocodiles and watching one drown in a pool of blood. As a prank, Arlo's brother pretends he's dead.
Crude or Profane Language
One unfinished "bulls—." We also hear "dang" and "shoot." Name-calling includes "yellow belly," "coward" and "cluckers."
Drug and Alcohol Content
In a strange segment, Arlo and Spot eat rotting fruit they find on the ground and launch into a psychedelic romp involving distorted body parts and characters exchanging heads.
Other Negative Elements
Spot squats behind a rock. And then he urinates behind a log. As a gross-out gag, Arlo gets covered with leeches. A dinosaur waters his farm by "spitting" on his crops. In turn, dino youngers spit water at each other. A bit of food stealing goes on in this dino-eat-dino world.
Spot, were he to be imitated by admiring youngsters, might prompt them to do such things as recklessly climb dangerous rocks or trees, carry stuff around in their mouths, bite people and eat bugs. Is it worth noting that Spot wears nothing but an organic diaper of sorts? (It's made of leaves.)
This prehistoric Pixar pic kicks off its playful adventure with a series of big What If's. What if the massive asteroid that scientists say hit Earth and killed off the dinosaur population some 65 million years ago … missed? What if, millions of years after that near-miss, dinosaurs somehow evolved into talking and family-raising groups of homestead farmers and open range cowboys?
And what if humans topped out as nonverbal critters who scampered through the undergrowth, scavenging for tasty grub worms and fighting off beasties with clench-teethed snarls?
That's a pretty tall stack of could-be's and I wonder's. And if you're not inclined to entertain that sort of flipped-on-its-ear evolutionary fable, well, you'll probably be itching and scratching like a feral cave dweller yourself long before Arlo and Spot become fast friends. And if your youngest adventurers are unprepared for a raging-water, Lion King-like parental demise sequence and other splashes of sharp-toothed peril, they'll likely be twitching and trembling, too.
Those who do decide to jump in this rambunctious and alternate-reality river will at least find a few kid-focused lessons about the importance of facing up to your fears; the joys of good friends and family bonds; and even a hairy, chest-thumping thumbs-up to adoption.
A postscript: The Good Dinosaur is paired with an opening short called Sanjay’s Superteam. It brushes up against Hinduism as an energetic, superhero-loving boy is asked to sit and pray with his father. His tedium turns into an adventure as he embarks on an imaginary battle against evil, assisted by his father's gods. One of those gods wears a midriff-baring outfit.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Voices of Jeffrey Wright as Poppa; Frances McDormand as Momma; Raymond Ochoa as Arlo; Jack Bright as Spot; Sam Elliott as Butch; Steve Zahn as Thunderclap
Peter Sohn ( )
November 25, 2015
February 23, 2016