At the end of The Good Dinosaur, I turned to Lindsay and asked if there was a version without the dinosaurs or humans, and she knew precisely what I was talking about. While these characters weren't awful, they mostly just got in the way of the absolutely gorgeous backgrounds and landscapes. At times, I honestly wondered if the movie wasn't produced solely to test out some new Pixar processor or algorithm.
Again, this is as much a compliment to how good they've gotten at creating digital worlds as it is a swipe at the rather simplistic story and characters portrayed in The Good Dinosaur. Well, almost.
The setting is essentially a dinosaur occupied version of Wyoming or Montana in the late 1800's. The characters almost all seem to fall into roles you'd see in live-action movies in the same setting, with the odd exception of what seemed to be a biker gang. Lindsay theorized this might have been an attempt to distance them from Native Americans - there were some unfortunate parallels with how Hollywood used to portray indigenous people.
Fair or not, it doesn't help the movie's case that it's coming on the heels of Inside Out, the most emotionally complex picture the studio's ever made. In contrast, The Good Dinosaur has an emotional complexity somewhere between that of A Bug's Life and Cars. The story line and characters are written for boys ages four to ten and no one else.
That doesn't mean it's bad, just simple. And there's an elegance to the movie's simplicity. Some of the minor characters are a lot of fun, and there are a number of humorous jokes throughout. Also, in the interest of full disclosure, they managed to elicit a reaction from me near the end. I felt like a sucker - the moment in question was cliche as hell - but it worked on me regardless.
It's difficult to know whether to recommend this or advise you wait for DVD. On one hand, the visuals are stunning on the big screen. But the characters, ironically, wind up feeling much smaller. It's not the style but the writing: their concerns wind up feeling childish and underdeveloped.
My guess is that, if you're the sort of person who'd feel like you got your money's worth, you're almost certainly already planning to go, regardless of what I type here. Rest assured you'll be impressed with how good Pixar's gotten, and there'll be enough funny and cute moments to carry you through.
For those of you who aren't on board the Pixar wagon, you'll be happy to hear this one isn't groundbreaking or incredible (aside from the aforementioned background animation). It's a fine animated movie for kids, but there's not a great deal for the rest of us.