Blu-Ray Review: Disney Pixar's The Good Dinosaur

THE SET-UP
Arlo, a young apatosaurus, is separated from his family and thrust into an unforgiving wilderness. With the help of a young human, Arlo finds not only the courage he needs to survive, but possibly a way home. Featuring the voices of Jeffrey Wright and Frances McDormand.
Directed by Peter Sohn.

THE DELIVERY
The Good Dinosaur, the 16th Pixar feature film to be released, is a “journey of discovery” story that fuses a wide-eyed sense of wonder with astounding visuals. It is a bit more serious and emotional than parents might expect, although Toy Story 3 and Inside Out should have shown us that Pixar doesn’t pull punches anymore. This isn’t light-hearted fare, and while the mature themes are a bit closer to Toy Story 3’s tone, that certainly doesn’t make it a bad film. Indeed, director Peter Sohn delivers a fanciful tale that is, at times, both funny and reflective, culminating in an ending with deep emotional heft, despite the bittersweet taste.

Set in a world where dinosaurs never went extinct, the film follows Arlo, a young apatosaurus who is separated from his family, and needs to find his way home. Along for the journey is a young human, Spot, who acts like a dog and quickly becomes Arlo’s best friend.


If The Good Dinosaur feels familiar, it’s because the film treads some familiar Disney themes. To really get into the film and what works (and what doesn’t), it is necessary to discuss some plot points. I don’t like posting spoilers, but in this case, it’s necessary.

While The Good Dinosaur presents an endearing theme on the importance of family, it also gives us the dreaded “death of the parent” plot device. In past Disney films, a parent’s death marks a significant turn for the child’s development (just ask Bambi or Simba). In The Good Dinosaur, however, the death scene so closely mirrors the death of Mufasa in The Lion King that it doesn’t feel authentic at all. Ultimately, Arlo grows up whether or not he loses a parent, as he is left alone in the wilderness to fend for himself. It seems like a needless loss and just more sadness in a film that already seems too serious.

Parents should note that a fair amount of small creatures are killed and eaten in the film, as punchlines to jokes. Older kids and parents will find it funny, but young children likely won’t take it well. There’s a lot of danger and peril in the film that will make youngsters uncomfortable, and despite the use of humor to provide some balance, the tone is often far too serious for kids under eight years old.

As the story develops, and the Arlo/Spot relationship strengthens, the film picks up steam. There are some really touching scenes in the film’s second half, and some nice humor, thanks in large part to a group of T-Rex ranchers led by Butch (voiced by the incredible Sam Elliott). While the film ends on a positive note, an inevitable separation (delivered with shades of The Jungle Book) makes it bittersweet.


While The Good Dinosaur is a beautiful film to watch, and largely entertaining, its uneven tone keeps it from being a truly great movie. It will likely be unfairly compared to Pixar’s classics and judged inferior, but that doesn’t give Sohn’s film the credit it deserves. This is a tale about loss, discovery, and growth, told without songs or pratfalls, and it delivers a positive message of the importance of family with warmth and an authenticity that few children’s films accomplish.

VIDEO AND AUDIO
Perhaps the film’s greatest strength is the art direction, which features mountainous vistas based on actual locales in the northwest. The scenery in the film is photo-realistic, and is easily among the finest Pixar has ever achieved technically. It is simply gorgeous to look at, and the high definition video transfer is fantastic. Colors are deep and consistent, and the detail is superb.

The audio is an impressive 7.1 DTS-HDMA mix, with outstanding clarity that seamlessly balances Mychael and Jeff Danna’s score (which is near-perfect, by the way) with the dialogue. There’s even some impressive bass whenever a T-Rex appears on-screen.


SPECIAL FEATURES
I’m usually disappointed when new films are released on Blu-ray, as special features (which I love) usually are an afterthought. Because the demand is more for the film itself than for the extras, Studios tend to throw in a featurette and a trailer as a bonus on a disc and call it a day. Disney/Pixar is a nice exception, however. For The Good Dinosaur, we get extras as if this were a catalog title and someone raided the archives. The special features are as follows:

“Sanjay’s Super Team” animated short. This short, written and directed by Sanjay Patel (and based on his childhood experiences) explores a young Indian boy’s imagination, when his faith and his love of super- heroes collide. It’s fun and unusual, and unlike the usual Pixar fare. Running time: 7:07

“True Lies About Dinosaurs” featurette. This featurette separates the facts from the fictionalized world of The Good Dinosaur. A nice little educational primer for the kiddos. Running time: 1:56.

“Recyclosaurus” featurette. This look inside the Pixar Studios highlights a company-wide competition in which employees created dinosaurs using recycled items from the company’s “free stuff” table. Featurettes like this one, which provide a rare look inside the Pixar studio, are among my favorite extras. Sue me, I like peeking behind the curtain. Running time: 6:19.

“The Filmmakers’ Journey” featurette. First-time director Peter Sohn and various crew members discuss the challenges they faced in making the film. It’s surprisingly candid, and a nice look at the making of the film. Running time: 7:54


“Every Part of The Dinosaur” featurette. The animators discuss their approach to bringing the characters to life. Running time: 6:08

“Following the T-Rex Trail” featurette. The film’s animators visited a cattle ranch in Oregon for inspiration and ideas, which were used to give the film’s T-Rex characters a “rancher” personality. It’s my personal favorite extra on the disc, as we get to meet the McKay family, who ended up providing much of the character we see in Butch and the T-Rex family. Running time: 6:58

Deleted Scenes. Rough animation of three deleted scenes are included: “The Attack,” “Building the Silo,” “and “Waiting for Poppa.” An introduction by director Peter Sohn is included. The scenes themselves are actually very good, and it’s always interesting to see how a film develops, and why some scenes drop to the cutting room floor. Running time: 10:41

“Dino Bites” clips. These short animated clips featuring various characters were used to promote the film, and are compiled into one long sequence here. Kids in particular will enjoy it, with its constant barrage of visual gags. Running time: 4:15

“Hide and Seek” clip. Another promotional clip, featuring some some interaction with Arlo, Spot, and Butch. Running time: 59 seconds


"Just Listen" featurette. This clip, an exclusive to Disney Movies Anywhere, explores the soundscape of The Good Dinosaur, from the score to the sound effects to the voice actors. It's an excellent watch. Running time: 6:14

Trailers. Three trailers are included: “Moment,” North American Trailer #2; “Courage,” a Russian trailer; and “Different,” a German trailer. The international trailers in particular are a nice treat.

Audio Commentary. The audio commentary is quite good, with director Peter Sohn, story supervisor Kelsey Mann, animation supervisor Mike Venturini, director of photography (lighting) Sharon Calahan, and supervising technical director Sanjay Bakshi all participating. Each provides some nice insight into their work on the film. The technicalities of creating a CGI animation film shouldn’t be entertaining, but this group knows how to connect with viewers, making their recollections worth listening to.

Digital Copy. A digital version of the film, accessible through Disney Movies Anywhere, iTunes,, and Ultraviolet providers like VUDU is included.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The Good Dinosaur is big on heart, uneven in tone
There’s a lot to love in The Good Dinosaur, with some strong family themes and outstanding visuals. It’s a bit too serious and emotional at times for very young viewers, so parents should be aware of that. It may not be Pixar’s best, but it is still head and shoulders above most family fare.

BLU-RAY SPECS
Release Date: February 23, 2016
Rating: PG
Running time: 94 minutes
Aspect ratio: 2.39:1
Audio: English 7.1 DTS-HDMA, 5.1 and 2.0 Dolby Digital, 2.0 Descriptive Audio, French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital
Subtitles: English, English for the Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Special Features: “Sanjay’s Super Team” animated short, “True Lies About Dinosaurs” featurette, “Recyclosaurus” featurette, “The Filmmakers’ Journey” featurette, “Every Part of The Dinosaur” featurette, “Following the T-Rex Trail” featurette, Three Deleted Scenes, “Dino Bites” clips, “Hide and Seek” animated clip, Three Trailers, Digital Copy.
Audio Commentary: With director Peter Sohn, story supervisor Kelsey Mann, animation supervisor Mike Venturini, director of photography (lighting) Sharon Calahan, and supervising technical director Sanjay Bakshi.
Label: Walt Disney Home Entertainment

Click here to order The Good Dinosauron Blu-ray from Amazon!


Victor Medina is a freelance writer based in Dallas. He is the editor of several websites, and his writing credits include The Dallas Morning News, Yahoo News, Cinelinx.com and SportsIllustrated.com. He has served as a Dallas County election judge and on the Board of Directors of The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in Dallas. You can follow him on his blog, VictorMedina.com or on Twitter at @mrvictormedina. He can be reached by email at vic@victormedina.com.

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