Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour 33 min.
Our content ratings: Violence 3; Language 1; Sex/Nudity 2.10
Our star rating (1-5): 3.5
But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—
I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people
This Pixar film, directed by Peter Sohn, might not be up to the studio’s usual high standards, but it still makes for good family viewing. However due to some scary scenes involving a raptor attack, parents ought to see it first before taking a pre-school child to see it. As with most animated family films, there are life lessons to be discussed, such as overcoming fear and making one’s “mark” in the world.
The story is that of a journey—an outer geographic one, and an inner trek to maturity. The story is set in an alternate universe in which the meteor that struck Earth and wiped out the dinosaurs narrowly missed colliding with the planet. Thus the dinosaurs evolved to produce a culture, by the time humans showed up. Our dinosaur family grows crops while humans are still scavengers stealing from them.
Arlo (voiced by Raymond Ochoa) is the runt of three Apatosaurus children who help with their parents, Henry (Jeffrey Wright) and mother Ida (Frances McDormand) with the farm chores. His larger siblings perform their chores so well that they are allowed to make their mark on the stone wall of the grain storage bin, just below that of their parents. Arlo, however, is so afraid of the chickens he is assigned to feed that he has yet to achieve anything worthy of making his mark. When he is ordered to catch and kill the little feral human boy stealing their crops, he is unable to do so. His father, whom he calls Poppa, takes him out to track the thief, and there follows a calamity and series of adventures that involve a long journey, attacks by predators, and a strange friendship with the little human, and even a family of T-Rexes.
Although the animation of the main characters seems a bit crude, the backgrounds of mountains and such are rendered beautifully. There is a wonderful nighttime scene in which Arlo is frightened by a bug that lands on his snout. Father reaches out to the bug, causing it to light up, as he says, “Sometimes, you gotta get through your fear to see the beauty on the other side.” He then waves his tail through the grass, causing more fireflies to fly up and light up the meadow.
Adults will enjoy the journey film morphing midway into a Western. It seems that the T-Rex family (I love the filmmakers bucking dinosaur film tradition by making the fierce-looking critters friendly supporters of Arlo!) are “long horn” raisers. When Arlo crosses their path they are out searching for their herd, rustled away by nasty predators. By now Arlo and the little human boy, their normal film roles reversed with the boy being the pet, and the dinosaur the master, are traveling together. The boy, named Spot, picks up the herd’s spoor, and when they recover the herd and fight off the rustlers, the T-Rex help Arlo discover the way home.
Before the end of the journey both boy and dinosaur discover the meaning and importance of family. The ending is a very moving one, providing adults and children an opportunity to discuss fear and what it means to be a family.
The film has gained but a fraction of the notice garnered by other Pixar releases, but I suspect that once it is available on DVD and on-line, children will embrace it. Poppa’s advice to Arlo about fear is about as shallow as that in such musicals as The King and I (remember Anna singing “Whistle a Happy Tune” for the benefit of her son?), but the scene can lead adults into sharing their faith informed by such Scriptural books as Isaiah and Luke. The film is secular, like most films produced for a mass audience, so some people of faith might fault it for not offering the “Answer,” but this should not cause us to steer children away from it. As with other works of art, the film strikes up a dialogue with the viewer, one about family, adventure, and overcoming fear.
This film with a set of discussion questions will be in the March issue of Visual Parables.sr_1