“The Good Dinosaur” too often goes through the storytelling motions. The animated comedy-adventure, set in a mountainous, prehistoric American West, is a beautiful sight, but its recycled storytelling is stale.
Building on the basic ingredients of Pixar and classic hand-drawn Disney animation, a young character loses a parent and struggles to reclaim his place in the world. Danger and comedy follow as the character encounters enemies and allies during a long, dangerous journey home. Many cute creatures pop up along way.
“The Good Dinosaur” reaches for the drama and poignancy of the best of Pixar and Disney. It never clinches those qualities. The highs aren’t high enough, the lows aren’t low enough. Humor is only weakly amusing.
The movie opens with its most inspired moment. Sixty-five million years ago, in an asteroid belt circling the sun, an asteroid knocks one of its big rock neighbors out of orbit. The displaced asteroid plunges toward Earth.
In one scientific theory for the extinction of dinosaurs, an asteroid strikes Earth, causing a catastrophe. Dinosaurs and 50 percent of all other life on the planet perish in mass extinctions.
In “The Good Dinosaur,” as the asteroid is falling to Earth, herds of dinosaurs graze peacefully below the night sky. The dinosaurs’ heads lurch upward for a second as the fiery rock whizzes by, missing Earth. And then it’s back to grazing as usual.
The script’s revised scientific theory lets dinosaurs evolve into farmers. They raise corn and build rudimentary dwellings. Arlo (voice performance by Raymond Ochoa) and his two siblings are hatched in such a house, to a pair of big, green, long-necked, dutiful apatosaurus parents.
From the instant Arlo makes his cloying debut, he’s the least physically developed sibling. While his brother and sister grow big and confident, Arlo stays weak and fearful. The filmmakers drill this underdog status into the audience.
The flood doubly devastates Arlo because it sweeps him away from his family’s farm in the valley by the river. He likely won’t survive exile in the wilderness. Driving the point to overkill, the film repeatedly shows the poor little dinosaur falling and knocked about.
An unlikely bond between the dinosaur and a primitive but resourceful human boy raises Arlo’s chances of not being eaten by something big and mean. The latter includes a flock of nasty pterodactyls.
Revisionist evolution being what it is in “The Good Dinosaur,” Arlo is more evolved than the oddly canine-like little human.
He names his sniffing, howling new best friend Spot. Which makes this a movie about a dinosaur and his boy, not a boy and his dinosaur. The reversal is a hard sell, one of the movie’s fault lines.
The late-story arrival of a friendly family of T-Rexes adds some needed fun and action. Sam Elliot’s booming, laid-back voice performance as T-Rex papa Butch is a big plus. But the T-Rexes are a fleeting highlight in a Pixar movie that can’t compete with the studio’s many past glories.