“The Good Dinosaur” Fights Fear With Fear


image courtesy of Disney

The tyrannosaur ranchers Arlo encounters are friendlier than they appear.

Madeline Old and Minna Kuriakose

Though the “Inside Out” hangover hadn’t fully diminished yet, Pixar decided that it wasn’t ready to end the year. Pixar’s newest film, “The Good Dinosaur,” presents how creative the team can really be. The opening sequence of the movie features the asteroid belt releasing the supposed asteroid that destroyed the dinosaurs. But screenwriters decided to change things up a bit, directing the asteroid just past Earth’s surface without leaving a single mark. So that leaves us with dinosaurs who are shown having distinct human characteristics. 

The first trailer for “The Good Dinosaur” seems to suggest that the boy, whose name is Spot, and the dinosaur Arlo (Raymond Ochoa) share the title of protagonist, but this is not the case. The few humans that appear (only Spot shows up in more than a scene and a half) are clearly coded as wolves- they howl, walk on four legs and eat raw meat. Their mannerisms are modeled off a pet dog. The minimal clothing they wear to keep the movie family-friendly is at odds with the rest of their behavior. Arlo, the runt of his family of Apatosaurus corn farmers, behaves like a scared human child in the wilderness, and Spot is a fierce hunter.

The animation throughout the movie is absolutely gorgeous (some scenes even look like the characters are simply animated on top of actual wilderness footage), so much so that cartoonish, knobbly-kneed Arlo looks quite out-of-place. The wilderness Arlo finds himself in is as beautiful as it is terrifying. Arlo begins the movie a coward, scared of insects and the chickens on the farm- and then the drama and noise of nature itself. He accidentally falls into the river, which washes him far away from his home farm. Trying to make his way back, he befriends the human child Spot. Previously, Arlo’s father referred to Spot as “the critter” and it was Arlo’s job to kill him to prevent him from stealing any more of his family’s corn, but Arlo relies on Spot for survival and comes to love him.

The wild is Arlo’s greatest fear, especially thunderstorms, which are irrevocably linked in his mind with trauma. The first other dinosaurs Arlo encounters are ruthless predator pterodactyls with yellow eyes who claim to have no fear after the storm “relevated” (revelation/elevated) them, repeating “the Storm has provided” after every kill. The storm is the real villain of this movie, and it is terrifying. The imagery of lightning reflecting in Arlo’s eyes, the deadly roar of brown water, and the dark rolling clouds is consistently repeated. It’s Disney, so we never see blood, but the threat of death always looms, both from the elements and the other dinosaurs Arlo encounters.

Besides Spot, the best friends Arlo makes along the way are a family of tyrannosaurs modeled after cowboys. They seem threatening at first, but end up subverting the stereotype of tyrannosaurs as the bloodthirstiest dinosaurs. The bond between the two characters deepens in a touching night time scene where they both exchange sorrows of lost family, communicating wordlessly. As the two travel back home, they encounter a number of other dinosaurs including evil pterodactyls, a hilarious Styracosaurus, and buffalo herding T-rexes, all of who help Arlo to learn how to overcome his cowardly ways and fears and realize his love for Spot. 

One interesting difference this movie presents is the role of nature. In previous Pixar movies, nature has merely been a backdrop on which the drama happens. But in “The Good Dinosaur”, nature is why the drama happens. Challenges presented by nature lead to Arlo’s father’s death, Arlo’s adventure, and eventually Spot and Arlo’s friendship. It molds the entire story.



The Good Dinosaur deals with death and fear very well, but it does use death and fear to do it. This is a heavy movie, set in a harsh and lonely world, despite the cuddly-looking character design. Arlo and Spot eat fermented fruit and spend a scene hallucinating. Parental death, as shockingly depicted as The Good Dinosaur provides, might be too much for young children. But perhaps the emotional pain is at least somewhat offset by the lovingly animated water- running in rivulets off Arlo’s belly, floating in the realistically lit clouds and of course the dangerously powerful river itself.