In Pixar’s newest film, The Good Dinosaur, a budding young sauropod named Arlo (voiced by Raymond Ochoa) goes on a quest to find his homeland and befriends a feisty cave boy along the way. Like The Land Before Time did for kids decades ago, The Good Dinosaur tackles the heavy themes of parental loss, fear, and loneliness through the timeless medium of dinosaurs traveling on a brave odyssey. And like previous Pixar films, The Good Dinosaur works on many levels. Depending on your age group, it is a sweet and cute movie, or a poignant visual poem, or some combination of both.
Most children would likely love this movie. So much of it happens through action and nonverbal cues alone that even the yet-to-speak demographic would find it plenty comprehensible. Joys and thrills abound as Arlo and his friend play whack-a-mole with some underground critters, dive and dip in mountain swimming holes, or feast on some fermented fruit with hilariously trippy results.
Nor does the movie insult its young viewers’ emotional intelligence. Themes of growing up and overcoming fears are dealt with head-on through the realest of subjects as young Arlo struggles and matures in a scary, unpredictable world. Perhaps some of the more jaded elders in attendance might find it manipulative or overly sentimental, especially with such cartoony characters journeying against otherwise photorealistic backdrops.
It’s also a very spiritual movie. The Good Dinosaur is about rebuilding yourself in the wake of a calamity, and the film provides various models of dealing with chaos and sadness — from the fearful styracosaur bedecked with danger-warding buddies to the suspicious extreme-sports mysticism of pterodactyls to the profound solitude of raindrops on pines. So spectacular are the movie’s Wyoming-like landscapes that it may be the next best thing to taking your child into the wilderness, and the movie offers many moments of awe within.
And like the unforgettably beautiful waters that course across screen, this spirit quest of a film has a lot of depth going on beneath its sparkling surface. It’s the rare kids’ film that has both a heart and a soul.