Maybe Cars and the Hot Wheels-
Now The Good Dinosaur stomps into theaters, and it too should benefit from the brand's diminishment. It's smart in surprising ways, daring in a few minor ones, moving in the right ones. It's also no Ratatouille or The Incredibles, but what is? Those Brad Bird triumphs often seemed crafted for grownups rather than their kids, and here that's reversed. But the movie's honest about it, and never dumb, just thundering and obvious and much too familiar in its storytelling. The Good Dinosaur is another episodic growing-up adventure story, copy-pasted over with the one kid obsession left that had not yet been given Pixar's feature-film treatment.
Still, the vistas are gorgeous, and the setup is clever
Enlivening all this is the film's best innovation, a feral human sidekick who scampers on all fours and upends the old tropes about a boy and his dog. People are a recent development in the world of The Good Dinosaur, and the first one Arlo meets is a gnashing, vicious hunter-toddler swaddled in a darling diaper of leaves. (Watch out for poison ivy!) The kid can't speak, but he eventually proves friendly, climbing trees and cliffs to gather berries for hapless Arlo, who spends most of the movie screaming and/or falling. As happens so often with Pixar, the strongest scenes are the quiet ones. Here there's a beauty of cross-species pantomime as Arlo and the kid find a way to tell each other about their lost families — and that, together, they're something of a family themselves. At night, the kid wolf-howls at the moon, and there's a shivery poignancy to these moments, especially when, late in the film, his cries get answered.
They poke along, and the movie does too, avoiding conflict or drama but not noisy spurts of danger. Sam Elliott turns up, eventually, as a cowboy T. rex in Monument Valley. The slide into western cliché is diverting, but it's no inversion, and The Good Dinosaur has as little to say about John Ford pictures as Monsters University did about Animal House. The Searchers is just more data for Pixar's computers to harvest, more familiarity for its storytellers to pass off as pop inventiveness.
As always, there's far too much time-wasting hurly-burly: If you don't know early on that there's a waterfall in that river our kid-dino hero is warned to avoid, then you don't know set-piece-oriented children's filmmaking. And, like with Inside Out, lots of the running time here is given over to wandering, to braving obstacles and strange encounters that kids will pick through à la carte on video. It might play better with a child editor — even kids have sat through many of these scenes too often before, and there's simply not much to think or feel as The Good Dinosaur's pterodactyls or whatever harrow our heroes, again and again. Kids might cover their eyes during the scary bits, but, just like the grownups, they won't exactly be invested in them — we're all together in simply waiting for them to be over.
Still beats Planes 3, though.
The Good Dinosaur
Starring Raymond Ochoa, Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand, and Sam Elliott. Directed by Peter Sohn. Written by Meg LeFauve. 100 minutes. Rated PG. Opens Wednesday, November 25.