What kid doesn’t love dinosaurs to start with? They have fascinated little brains for time out of mind, so the concept of their surviving instead of becoming extinct as a result of an asteroid’s collision with Earth is a delicious one to conjure with (the shot of the asteroid soaring by as the mighty creatures graze is strangely moving). Because Disney/Pixar animations have been a constant source of enjoyment and stimulation for me over the years, my disappointment with this was probably even more pronounced than it might otherwise have been. Had I noticed it beforehand, the PG rating would have provided a clue, for this is a film of confronting and discomforting imagery – it’s joyless in a way that you don’t expect (or maybe I’d over-indulged in the De Bortoli and tiramisu the night before). There is more darkness and danger – savagery, even – than most parents might normally want their ankle-biters to deal with and, for all its clear-stated elevation of companionship and home, it never really delivers the feel-good finale, notwithstanding Jeff and Mychael Danna’s typically heartbooming score.
It’s a big bad world out there, so it could be argued that exposing children to life’s tougher side is doing them a service, but if the subdued mood in the cinema at the session I attended is anything to go by, the lesson is proving to be a bitter pill to swallow. Arlo, the green Apatosaurus, after losing his father in harrowing circumstances, is befriended by Spot, an orphaned caveboy in the Mowgli mould, who helps Arlo find his way back to his family. The animation of the environment in which the action takes place is gorgeous, but the drawing of Arlo is decidedly unoriginal, as are those of most of the creatures. The pacing is often hectic, with too much emphasis on fights, but really, Velociraptors off their face on ice is about as charmless as a kids’ flick can get. Let’s hope the upcoming Peanuts restores brightness and humour to cartoonland.