The line “I drowned that croc in my own blood” is unexpected in a cute movie for kids. Indeed, my almost-3-year-old daughter kept crying “That scares me,” and covered her eyes multiple times during The Good Dinosaur. “The little dinosaur is scared tambien,” I kept telling her. (We live in Mexico.) “Being scared is OK. He’s being brave.”
This film is tough. I saw Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian in the journey of Arlo, brontosaurus runt, and his caveboy Spot. It’s like a G-rated The Revenant.
In an alternate reality, dinosaurs evolved into talking, farming family units. The Good Dinosaur is a feast of mythic western archetypes, firstly the fine family working hard on its ranch, like the start of Shane or Unforgiven. A strong river runs through Arlo’s family’s ranch, and the jagged, snowy peaks of Clawtooth Mountain lord above.
Arlo becomes lost in the wilderness beyond those peaks, and the characters he encounters on his frightened trek home are lessons in handling fear. An insane styracosaurus (like a triceratops), who collects pets with names like Dreamcrusher, seems to have been so afraid that he lost his mind forever. Villainous pterodactyls say they conquered their fears through something like religion. “I’ve seen the edge of the storm,” Thunderclap sermonizes, eyes red and bulging, “and I forgot what fear is!”
Arlo and Spot are helped by tyrannosauruses, a father and his son and daughter, buffalo herders who have lost their herd. These are 40-foot-tall, stone-tough cowpokes, who explain around a campfire how they’ve survived in the Wild West. The daughter chewed the end of her tail off, because she would have died otherwise. The father, his facial scar tremendous and disfiguring, drowned that croc in blood.
It’s an elemental survival western, crafted with the Pixar palate of rich characters and beautiful animation (though there’s a shot of a T-Rex herding cattle across a plain at sunset that surpasses beauty, into evocation).
My daughter never watches stuff that scares her; she usually cries until I turn it off. She finished The Good Dinosaur, though, which is very good. She can be brave.