Pixar has always known how to create emotional scenes in unpredictable ways. It’s never done in the typical Hollywood style–where two characters have a long talk with tears involved and other stuff.
In WALL-E, they’re literally robots, so the filmmakers had to find a way to bring emotion to the story with a bunch of beeps and eye movements.
In Monsters Inc., Pixar uses Boo’s door at the end to make us feel some type of way.
And in Up, the simple image of Carl and Ellie’s scrapbook was enough for me. He didn’t even have to open it up and look at it.
The Good Dinosaur continues this trend, and despite what the critics are saying, it’s one of my favorite Pixar movies of all time.
The movie centers around Arlo, a young Apatosaurus that’s frightful of pretty much everything. Since the dinosaurs never went extinct within the universe of the film, his dinosaur family farms the land like humans would.
Arlo’s father puts a lot of pressure on him to “make his mark” in the world. When he does make his mark, Arlo will be allowed to put his footprint on the wall of his family’s food reserve.
This is the main conflict of the film for the first 20 minutes or so. Because Arlo is fearful of everything, he doesn’t succeed in doing this while his brother and sister accomplish it quite quickly.
Long story short, his father dies, and Arlo get’s swept up by the river–one of the film’s more blatant motif’s. He finds himself far from home, and more scared than ever.
He meets a small human boy that ends up acting like his pet dog, which is a weird concept, but actually works quite well. The main conflict of the film from now on is Arlo’s quest to make it back home.
Ok, now for the themes and motifs.
This movie is visually spectacular. It’s probably the best looking Pixar movie ever made, taking place in a pre-historic version of the American West. The film is, in fact, a western. There’s a family of funny T-Rex’s that act like a bunch of cowboys along with multiple landscapes typical of the American west.
Nature is the film’s most obvious motif. There’s storms, rivers, trees, snow, lightning, and mountains.
Arlo is told that he only needs to follow the river to get back home. The river is where he loses his father and also where he almost loses Spot later on in the story. The weird thing is, Arlo loses the river mid-way through the movie, and is out on his own without a bearing.
The T-rex later tells him that there’s “tons of rivers”, and Arlo decides to just follow them on their journey to the watering hole (one of the film’s many other references to water, including rain, and the river itself). To me, the river represents life.
There’s many twists and turns in life and in the river, and we do lose our way from time to time. We lose people along the way too, and Arlo loses his father early in the film. The water levels rise and fall, constantly changing. Life isn’t comfortable, it throws a lot at us.
The storm represents fear itself. The band of Nyctosaurus’ (I’m not sure how to pluralize that) follow the storm, and the main bad guy named Thunderclap tells Arlo that the storm gave him a “relevation”. This flying weirdo sees things differently now that he follows the storm.
In a way this is definitely true for Arlo. In the end he faces his fear of the storm and has a revelation of his own.
In one of the emotional scenes that’s become typical of Pixar, Arlo uses a few twigs to represent his family. He stands them up in the dirt, and he lays the one representing his father down, which translates to the audience and to little Spot that he’s dead. Spot does the same thing, but with only three sticks, and he lays down two of them. We realize that both of his parents are dead, and there wasn’t even a word spoken. Cue tears.
Wood represents communion–family. Arlo and Spot sit by the fire with their T-Rex clan late in the movie–wood is what’s burning. These cowboy T-rex’s are their family. Spot is also trapped inside a hollowed out trunk of a tree late in the film, which spurs Arlo to save him–he is a part of Arlo’s family.
The foodprint is another motif. Arlo obviously wants to put his footprint on the wall to make his mark, but also later in the movie he hallucinates (which by the way isn’t the only hallucination of the movie) that his father is still alive, come to rescue him. He realizes that his father isn’t actually here by noticing that he isn’t leaving any footprints.
Footprints represent existance. If Arlo never makes his mark, there’s no evidence that he was even here. In the end he just wants to prove that he was worth something, and that he was a part of this world. He wants to belong.
The west is filled with predators, dangers, and as Arlo and Spot find out, fruits that make you hallucinate. It’s true, Arlo and Spot hallucinate in the film after eating wild fruit. It’s easily one of the quirkiest scenes I’ve ever witnessed from a Pixar movie, but it was also the funniest scene I’ve ever watched from a Pixar film as well–sorry spanish-speaking Buzz Lightyear.
The movie is a coming of age tale. Arlo finds out what’s really out there beyond the fence of his home. There’s things that will kill you, and there’s things that will make you laugh. There’s also good people that you’ll never forget. The west was a perfect setting to show that.
In the end Spot finds out that his family is in fact alive. In, I swear, one of the saddest moments in Pixar history, Arlo says goodbye to Spot. There might’ve been a literal pool under my seat by the time this scene was over.
This movie is quirky. There’s some very weird characters in the film. There’s this Styracosaurus that’s cross-eyed and he talks really funny. But I actually liked him. Life is full of bizzarre moments too, and that’s what the filmmakers were trying to get at too.
Overall, this might not go down as one of the best Pixar movies ever, but that’s OK. This is still a very solid film, full of emotional moments, humor, and scenes that will stir your soul. You know, typical Disney stuff. Great job Pixar.