A Dinosaur King
By Skip Sheffield
Picture “The Lion King” taking place in the Dinosaur Age and you get the gist of “The Good Dinosaur.”
This is a sweet computer-animated fable about bravery from Disney Pixar Studios, directed by Peter Sohn (“Monsters University,” “The Incredibles”) with screenplay by Meg LeFaure, who gave us the lovely “Inside Out.”
The story begins 65 million years ago, with an asteroid barreling toward Earth. Instead of striking Earth, which in theory exterminated the dinosaurs, the asteroid sails past Earth and life goes on. We move a few million years later to meet a family of Apatosaurus. Poppa (voice of Jeffrey Wright) and Momma (Frances McDormand) await the hatching of three eggs. Young Libby (Maleah Nipay-Padilla) hatches first out of the smallest egg. Next comes Young Buck (Ryan Teeple) a rambunctious male. Finally out of the largest egg hatches the tiniest Apatosaurus, named Arlo (Jack McGraw as a juvenile, Raymond Ochoa as an adolescent).
Arlo is the smallest, weakest and most fearful of the three siblings. In this prehistoric fantasy, dinosaurs till the soil, plant corn and store it in a silo from marauding “critters.”
Poppa is convinced Arlo has the right stuff, so he takes him on a mission to teach him courage. As in “Lion King” the father figure perishes, in this cause during a flood, leaving the son alone, lost and afraid.
So begins a picaresque journey in which Arlo meets all manner of prehistoric creatures, some cute and cuddly, some funny, and some terrifying. The “critter” who had been raiding Arlo’s family farm is a humanoid who thinks he’s a wolf. Originally an adversary, Spot, as Arlo calls him, becomes his best friend and helps him find his way back home.
The animation is so sharp and beautiful it is hard to tell if some of the backdrop scenery isn’t real. The various creatures are voiced by an A-list cast that includes deep-voiced Sam Elliott as the alpha T-Rex Buck; Jack Bright as the mostly howling voice of Spot, Steve Zahn as Thunderclap and John Ratzenberger as Earl.
The optimistic message of “The Good Dinosaur” is that even a runty, puny individual can rise up and find his courage. I can agree with that. I was the “runt of the litter” in my family.