What would life on Earth be like if the asteroid that destroyed the dinosaurs missed? The Good Dinosaur offers one answer. Set in the dawn of the age this latest offering from Pixar Animation Studios glitters with photorealistic animation and a sweet family of Apatosauruses on their corn farm.
Chained by Fear
Arlo (Raymond Ochoa) is the runt of the litter and lives in fear, especially of the chickens he’s tasked with feeding. Poppa (Jeffrey Wright) takes him for a stroll in the mountains around their home, challenging Arlo to overcome his fear. That backfires, actually increasing Arlo’s fear, when an unexpected storm sweeps Poppa away. Only when Arlo himself gets swept away from the farm by another storm does he begin to face his fears.
Dino and His Boy/Dog
In a reversal of the normal way of things, Arlo joins up with a little wild child (Jack Bright) who becomes like a pet dog to him. The boy even responds to the name, Spot. Together, Spot and Arlo set off looking for the river and the mountains that will bring Arlo back to his family. Encountering all kinds of creatures along the way, including a snake with four legs, a flock of nasty pterodactyls, and a timid styracosaurus (voiced by director Peter Sohn), Spot defends Arlo, who is usually slinking away in fear. It’s not until the duo meet a family of T-Rexes, that Arlo begins to wonder if he can conquer his fear. Butch (Sam Elliot), the poppa T-Rex, tells Arlo that it’s OK to be afraid. That’s how we know we’re alive. Arlo helps Butch and his kids, Ramsey (Anna Paquin) and Nash (A.J. Buckley), round up their longhorn cattle. In doing so he experiences the thrill of overcoming fear.
Great Conversation Starter
The Good Dinosaur gifts us with exquisite animation, so wonderful that the landscapes which backdrop the story almost look real. The themes of family, grieving, and overcoming fear are strong. After being swept away from his own family, Arlo finds family and friendship with Spot, and then the T-Rex family. He’s able to work through his grief at Poppa’s death, sharing with Spot how much he loves and misses his family. Arlo wants so much to see Momma and his brother, Buck (Marcus Scribner), and his sister, Libby (Maleah Nipay-Padilla) that he faces his fears and braves the journey back to Claw Tooth Mountain.
In one especially touching scene, Arlo (who talks) is trying to communicate to Spot (who doesn’t talk) about his family. Using twigs and a circle in the dirt, they are able to convey to each other that they’ve both lost loved ones. When they realize that they are not so different from each other, their bond strengthens even to Arlo risking his life in order to save Spot.
Praying for Families
At a few spots in the film, I shed some quiet tears, thinking about my own family. I have one family member who’s not dead but has cut himself off from the rest of us. I know I’m not the only one who grieves for him while, at the same time, we all continue to pray for reconciliation. All families are broken in one way or another and I hope The Good Dinosaur will help parents have great conversations with kids about family, and the ups and downs all families go through.
About the Author
Sister Hosea Rupprecht is a member of the Daughters of St. Paul, a religious community dedicated to evangelization with the media. She holds a Master of Theological Studies degree from the University of St. Michael’s College in Toronto and an MA in Media Literacy from Webster University in St. Louis.
Sr. Hosea is director of the East Coast office of the Pauline Center for Media Studies, based in Staten Island, NY, and speaks on media literacy and faith to catechists, parents, youth, and young adults. Together with Father Chip Hines, she is the co-host of Searchlight, a Catholic movie review show on Catholic TV. Sr. Hosea is the author of How to Watch Movies with Kids: A Values-Based Strategy, released by Pauline Books & Media.
For the past 15 years, she has facilitated various film dialogues for both children and adults, as well as given presentations on integrating culture, faith and media.