The Good Dinosaur
Christian Movie Review
Pixar is back with another atmospheric, visual masterpiece. It’s also back with another implicit ode to Naturalism (more on that in a moment). But, wow, the setting this film created — a landscape resembling the American Northwest — felt so real and immersive that I kept having flashbacks of all the backpacking trips in the Sierra Nevadas I took as a boy — especially in its sound effects. (Pixar isn’t just about amazing visuals. They have amazing audio too.)
But is it a storytelling masterpiece?
While I’m not so sure about the originality of the plot (though the emotive depth of the characters is awesome), the animation and sound design in this film mesmerizes. We’ll dive into more of that in the “Entertainment Value” section.
Going back to the last Pixar movie, in my review of “Inside Out,” I noted how Pixar built the film’s narrative structure on the modern psychology theory called “discrete emotion theory,” by Silvan Tompkins, whose theory was allegedly influenced by Charles Darwins’s “The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.”
In another ode to Naturalism, “The Good Dinosaur” implicitly dismisses the Biblical idea that humans alone are made in the image of God or that humans have any special distinction from all other creatures. The film’s general premise — its background worldview that frames the setting and the story — presents an implicit contradiction of Genesis 1:27, which says: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (NIV).
More on all of that in the “Worldviews” section. But first let’s cover any Parental Guidance Content in case you’re wondering what’s in the film before you take your kids to see it.
[Note: after you read my review for “The Good Dinosaur” below, if you’re a fan of C.S. Lewis, please check out my new blog Stabs of Joy or my podcast Aslan’s Paw. Both seek to crack open the surprising treasures of Christian belief — the things that Western society has forgotten, ignored, or never encountered — with the help of logic, literature, film, music, and one very unsafe Lion.]
Parental Guidance Content at a Glance for this PG rated film…
Sexual Content/Nudity/Themes of Sexuality and Romance: None. The dad dinosaur says to his son dinosaur that he needs to have a talk with him, and the son objects thinking he’s referring to “the talk” (i.e. about the “birds and the bees”).
Violence/Gore/Scary Content: Though there’s nothing really gory, the violent/scary content can be intense in some scenes, and that is why it is PG. For example: the pterodactyls swallow a cute fuzzy creature in a merciless, brutal (and unexpected) fashion (though no gore or blood). The human boy chops a large bug’s head off as it writhes and squirms on its back. The dinosaur Arlo injures his leg, and the scrapes and broken bones look realistic. In a very intense scene, a massive flood in the middle of a huge storm comes and sweeps one of the dinosaurs away. T-rexes bite pterodactyls and raptors and fling them around.
Alcohol/Drug/Smoking Content: Surprisingly enough, there is what you might call “drug” content in this film — a “getting high” scene. Arlo and the human boy eat some fruit that have hallucinogens in them, and they experience a psychedelic “trip,” and we see their wild hallucinations. It is played for laughs, and after their “trip” ends, they’re lying on the ground afterward with hangovers, and Arlo has a tree branch over his head that resembles the way a lampshade would look on someone’s head as they’re waking up from a wild party.
Entertainment Value and Film Craft
The atmosphere in the film might be my favorite of all Pixar films. By atmosphere I mean the way they animated the landscapes and the sounds they used to make those landscapes come alive. In possibly my favorite scene of the film, Pixar — with its usual creative genius — imagines a world in which T-rexes are cattle ranchers. The animation of the grass on the plains and the sight of the T-rexes running in a galloping motion that made them look like cowboys riding on horses — and actor Sam Elliot’s voicing of the lead T-rex only strengthened that feeling — is something I will not soon forget.
The atmosphere is so rich you can almost smell the pine trees and feel the cool mountain air drifting down from the peaks.
The general plot format, however, is a familiar coming-of-age story that we’ve seen in dozens of other films. If it wasn’t for the film’s stunningly imaginative setting and wonderfully creative characters (the weirdo triceratops was a real hilarious highlight), “The Good Dinosaur” would’ve been boring and predictable, to be honest — at least for adults who have seen many similar coming-of-age movies.
All of that being said, the characters have such endearing warmth to them that they easily have the entire theater eating out of the palms of their hands by the end of the film, and just about everyone in the theater cried at least a little. It’s a very affecting film.
Worldviews, Themes in the Subtext, and Answering the Question: “Does the Film Have a Message?”
As mentioned in the intro, the film has a premise that, in order for the story to work, must completely discard the Biblical idea that God made humanity alone in His image, as Gen. 1:27 states. Essentially the film’s premise is this: the meteor that was supposed to make all the dinosaurs go extinct misses earth, so all species of dinosaurs remain on the earth and evolve until they obtain the special moral self-awareness that humans possess in our world. The dinosaurs also have a societal complexity on par with a pre-industrial human civilization (think the 1800s in America, in the days of pioneers, farmers, and ranchers). Meanwhile, actual humans have not yet evolved to that level, and all people are still essentially beasts. The human boy is basically the dinosaur’s pet dog.
The Bible states that God made humanity “in His image,” which, among other spiritual factors, means that He gave us our sense of self-awareness, moral reasoning, and the ability to consciously know God and ask questions about the meaning of life.
This film, however, makes a much different statement: the things that make humanity unique among all other creatures were not given to us by God but came about by mere chance. If the meteor hadn’t wiped out all the dinosaurs, it may have been the dinosaurs who had our special qualities, not us.
Is this humans-as-beasts, beasts-as-humans idea creative? Is the premise behind “The Good Dinosaur” imaginative? Yes, absolutely. Pixar is always very imagina
tive with its story ideas. And none of the above is stated explicitly. It’s all implicit, but the assumption of Naturalism-as-fact is there nonetheless.
Within that general framework of Naturalism, however, you have a very heartwarming tale of family, friendship, loyalty, selflessness, and the heart wrenching process of dealing with the loss of loved ones — and how that process becomes more manageable when we have true friends to share our grief.
It’s a very powerful, touching film that will undoubtedly find its way into the hearts of millions of children and parents alike. But so will the very subtle idea that God never made humans alone in His image.
Conclusion: A Torn Admiration for a Visually Stunning, Atmospheric Film
For the reasons stated in the “Worldview” section, I am very torn about this film — just as I was with “Inside Out.” I absolutely disagree with the presuppositions behind “The Good Dinosaur,” but I loved the atmosphere of the world they created and many of the hilarious, unique characters — especially those T-rex cattle herders. Love the T-rex cattle herding scenes. As I did with “Inside Out,” I have to give “The Good Dinosaur” a high rating because it is a masterpiece of its genre and it has some wonderful sub-themes of family and selfless bravery in the face of great fear.
You’ve got to hand it to Pixar. They do “imaginative” like no one else. (Though if this film hadn’t been yet another subtle ode to Naturalism, I might’ve gone higher with my rating.)
My rating for “The Good Dinosaur”: [usr 8] (See my notes below on the rating scale.)
[NOTE: If you’re a fan of C.S. Lewis or U2, please be sure to read our editor Kevin’s new blog Stabs of Joy, which explores 18 C.S. Lewis books and 13 U2 albums to answer one question: how do we really experience Christ’s joy — and not just talk about it — during seasons of sorrow and difficulty?]
Note about my rating system for the movie’s film craft and entertainment value:
1 star = one of the worst movies ever made (the stuff of bad movie legends), and it usually (not always) has below 10% on Rotten Tomatoes
2-3 stars = a mostly bad movie that has a handful of nice moments; it usually falls between 10-30% on Rotten Tomatoes
4-6 stars = a decent movie with some flaws, overall. Four stars mean its flaws outweigh the good. Five stars mean equal good, equal bad. Six stars mean it’s a fairly good movie, with some great moments even, that outweigh a few flaws. A 4-6 star rating usually means it falls between 30-59% on Rotten Tomatoes (but not always).
7-9 stars = a rare rating reserved only for the best movies of that year; and a film must have a Fresh Tomato rating (60% or higher) on Rotten Tomatoes to be given 7 stars or higher, with a few exceptions (if I strongly disagree with the critics).
10 stars = one of the best films of all time, right up there with the all-time greats (i.e. Casablanca, The African Queen, Gone With the Wind, Lawrence of Arabia, Star Wars Episode IV, Indiana Jones, etc.).
If you are planning on seeing a movie soon, please consider purchasing your tickets online through our affiliate link above with Fandango, a high-quality vendor for online movie tickets. This will allow us to keep our site online and continue providing you with quality reviews.