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  Good Dinosaur, The Claw Of The West
Year: 2015
Director: Peter Sohn
Stars: Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand, Raymond Ochoa, Steve Zahn, Sam Elliott, Anna Paquin, A.J. Buckley, Marcus Scribner, Jack Bright, Mandy Freund, Steven Clay Hunter, David Boat, Carrie Paff, Calum Grant, John Ratzenberger, Peter Sohn
Genre: Animated, Science Fiction, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Sixty-five million years ago, an asteroid was knocked off course and towards Planet Earth, heading straight for it, beginning to burn up in the atmosphere until... it bounced off, and past our world into space. If it had landed, it would have been big enough to create an extinction event for the dinosaurs there, but it didn't, with the result that they lived on to adapt and evolve intelligence, so when we catch up with a small family of brontosaurus, the two parents (voiced by Jeffrey Wright and Frances McDormand) are agricultural farmers with a homestead out in the West of North America. Their three eggs have just hatched, but the biggest one contained the smallest reptile - they will have to look after Arlo (Raymond Ochoa) very carefully.

The Good Dinosaur (as opposed to the bad dinosaur? Can you judge a dinosaur's morals?) was another Pixar movie, like Brave, that suffered a troubled production history, though unlike that film it wasn’t much of a hit for a company used to steamrollering the competition with its huge successes. That same year, Inside Out won the plaudits and indeed the success, with this arriving shortly after and treated with a muted reaction at best, as if it was an afterthought to the ingenious child psychology toon, and so it was that it was destined to be remembered more like Disney’s previous attempt at CGI prehistory, Dinosaur of around fifteen years before, that was, not lingering in the memory much.

But was it all that bad? Could it have been less that the end product had wrinkles to iron out and more that the timing was wrong? It certainly wasn't terrible, but for a Pixar effort to be roughly slightly above the average Ice Age instalment on the quality scale wasn't exactly a proud boast, and it wasn’t just the character design that was an issue, though that did look far from appropriate in its cutesy form when the rest of it was so intent on creating a photorealistic environment for them to exist in. It was more that the story was simplistic, overcoming the odds platitudes when you had come to expect more depth with this studio, not something that could just as easily have ended up straight to video.

Indeed, it was only those backgrounds that set this out as Pixar, vast, sweeping vistas that could nearly have been the result of a team of second unit filmmakers being sent out to capture actual landscapes and the dinos plonked down in front of them; here at least the famed quality control could be relied upon. In its way, this was making itself a part of the minor revival of the Western genre that occurred in its year, the chief signifier being a lengthy sequence set in Monument Valley in case you were missing the allusions, with the brontosauruses facing the rigours of frontier life with bravery, indomitability but also a vulnerability when Arlo ends up swept away by the river while chasing the unevolved human child he eventually calls spot (Jack Bright) and keeps by his side as a pet.

We don’t discover what has happened to Spot’s family till the end, all we know is that he has been making a nuisance of himself by helping himself to the brontosaurus food supply, and Arlo is awarded the task of proving his mettle by catching and squishing him. It doesn't work out that way, probably because no matter how caricatured your dinosaur is, killing a child would be a sure way of destroying the audience's sympathy, so they wind up far from home and attempting to find their way back, The Incredible Journey-style. It’s the sort of test of the lead character that has informed countless children’s stories, not just Westerns, though the latter was represented by Sam Elliott as a buffalo rancher tyrannosaurus rex Arlo and Spot team up with along the expedition in case you were in any doubt of what they were referencing, yet for the most part the high concept seemed a too simple excuse to mix humans and dinosaurs with an alternate reality premise, rather than simply ignoring history as its predecessors like One Million Years B.C. had done, which it might as well have been. Music by Jeff Danna and Mychael Danna (also folksy).
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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