The Good Dinosaur **

Pixar’s latest has a strong family message and visuals but is ultimately underwhelming.

Is it worth $10? No

In Pixar we trust.

It doesn’t matter that “The Good Dinosaur” was in development purgatory for years, and even changed directors after production began. Or that the trailer looked “meh,” or that the dinosaurs inexplicably resemble Gumbi. Pixar, after giving us the “Toy Story” trilogy, “The Incredibles,” “Up” and more, has earned the benefit of the doubt. Surely “The Good Dinosaur” will be yet another triumph for the indefatigable masters of animation.

Well, nobody’s perfect.

Director Peter Sohn’s film takes a novel premise – that dinosaurs lived long enough to experience the dawn of humans – and does little with it besides repeatedly rip off “The Lion King.” The story begins with the birth of an Apatosaurus named Arlo (Raymond Ochoa), the runt of the litter who pales in comparison to his rapscallion brother and smarter sister. His parents (Jeffrey Wright and Frances McDormand), however, always believe in him, and go to great pains to help him conquer his fears. To help him man up his father takes him on a long walk, gives him sage advice, and then gets killed, leaving the dino-baby on his own and unable to get home.

You’re seeing “The Lion King” connections now, right? Arlo befriends a human boy, whom he calls Spot, and a group of T-Rexes (voiced by Sam Elliott, Anna Paquin and A.J. Buckley), that are eager to help. Hakuna Matada. They encounter danger in the form of pterodactyls (one of which is voiced by Steve Zahn) and hyenas, err, Velociraptors (one of which is voiced by Pixar stalwart John Ratzenberger) who try to eat them. Obstacles are overcome, lessons are learned the hard way. It’s all too predictable for adults to really engage with the material, and apparently not amusing enough for kids either, as there were only three or four laugh out loud moments in a theater full of children throughout the 100 minute run time.

Still, it is absolutely gorgeous to watch. Set high in the mountains in the United States, the detail of the animation is astounding – note the rocky terrain of the landscape, the fine grains of the sand, trees and shrubbery bristling in the wind, even the calamitous rush of dangerously raging rapids. It all looks vividly real – especially in 3D – to the point where it’s easy to forget you’re watching animation. You may not be entertained by the story, but you’re almost guaranteed to want to take a trip to the Grand Canyon or Yosemite on your next vacation.

Has the Pixar magic lapsed? It’s too early to tell, and one thump in a close to spotless goldmine of riches (i.e. the Pixar canon) is not something from which to draw conclusions. It is, however, a red flag, a nagging beacon in the back of our minds that will remain until the next Pixar release puts it out and restores our faith in the studio that has so admirably given us so much (FYI: “Finding Nemo” sequel “Finding Dory” comes June 2016). Until then, though, let’s consider “The Good Dinosaur” extinct.

Did you know?
This is the first time Pixar has released two films in one year – the other was “Inside Out.”