I think if there was ever a Pixar film that floated somewhat under the radar, it would have to be this one. Surprisingly, when I talk about Pixar with some people, many either haven't heard about this one, or think it comes from another animation studio. It seems most often mistaken for Disney's 2000 release, 'Dinosaur!', which I always find interesting considering this was a 2015 release. The fact of the matter is, it's a pretty solid movie, but it was heavily overshadowed by 'Inside Out' that year, and admittedly, this just wasn't quite on the same level.
The film opens, apparently, as an alternate history suggesting that the meteor that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs just passes Earth by instead. Millions of years later, this is ultimately how the world achieves an alternate reality wherein dinosaurs have adapted more humanistic traits, and human beings exist on a very animalistic level. Here, we meet a couple of Apatosaurus farmers, Henry and Ida (Jeffrey Wright and Frances McDormand, respectively) who have three children; Libby (Maleah Nipay-Padilla), Buck (Ryan Teeple/Marcus Scribner), and our story's hero, Arlo (Jack McGraw/Raymond Ochoa). While Libby and Buck are good at pulling their weight, Arlo can't quite seem to find his niche around the farm.
One day, Henry sets Arlo up with the special task of trapping and killing whatever critter keeps stealing their darn corn. The critter in question is a human boy, eventually named Spot (Jack Bright), who Arlo can't bring himself to kill. Disappointed, Henry takes him out to look for the boy and finish the job, but along comes a storm followed closely by a tragedy of 'Lion King' proportions. A little while later, the Apatosaurus family struggles more with the workload following their loss. As a result, one day Arlo spots... Spot in their silo, and chases him out only to run into another bad accident, this time sweeping him far away from home. Eventually, as one can imagine, Arlo learns to befriend Spot (and give him his name) and together they help each other out on Arlo's long journey home.
For me, this exists on a similar level as 'Brave' or 'Monsters University' in that it's all good and fun, but perhaps not the strongest Pixar pick in the library. Having said that, however, I can't really deny that there is at least a touch of that good old Pixar depth here. It's a film that teaches us about facing our fears and the fact that sometimes we just plain have to. It further dabbles in the idea of loss and coping, but also, perseverance through everything life throws at you. It's almost fascinating how bad Arlo gets it through this whole movie - it's like the epitome of "if it can go wrong, it probably will". With that, the film also shows us growth in Arlo's character that reaches as far as making your worst enemy your best friend - all due to a misunderstanding involving something as deep as the death of a loved one.
This would mark the first year that Pixar would crank out two movies rather than just one for the summer or the Christmas season. Now, they were tackling both. But with 'Inside Out' coming first, and marking a sort of resurrection for Pixar, it heavily took this one over. It also does not help that the final 'Hunger Games' movie would be released just five days prior. I think this had its audience of children, but a lot of the older generation sort of let it pass by. Heck, even I watched 'Creed' that weekend instead, because between the two, I thought it would be far more interesting. The Academy would give Pixar an Oscar that year for Best Animated Feature, but it didn't go to this - in fact, the Academy didn't even give this one a chance - but the 'Globes' did!
I still balance this film in my head as far as how much I like it. Just speaking for myself, I would probably consider this on the weakest end of the stronger side of Pixar, somewhat balanced with 'Brave' in that there's still heart, likable characters and solid animation with beautiful backgrounds. But it's not entirely original, and the thing that tugs on your heartstrings is a little more blunt. It doesn't quite reach me on that super special emotional level, but there's still something enjoyable about it, and the message it has to say is still a pretty positive one. This is a title that I would actually recommend checking out to anyone who may have skipped over it. On the whole, it's actually pretty good!
Writers and Directors