This film isn't aiming higher than Homeward Bound, but the visceral thrills of The Good Dinosaur more than paper over the shallow plot. It's unclear why this film needed five writers, because the film is neither complex nor verbose. What it is, is captivating and melancholy and occasionally joyous. The unbelievable visuals help here, as Pixar is getting closer and closer to verisimilitude in the natural vistas on display. Even a small touch like the squish of Arlo's feet as he takes a step is impressive. Once the journey gets going, what's been done to establish the characters meshes with the world-building in a series of travel vignettes. A hunt for berries becomes reptilian 127 Hours. A strange drug trip caused by hallucinogenic nuts gives way to a ranching sequence with T. Rex's as cowboys, the lead here voiced, of course, by Sam Elliott. A short sequence of running up a mountain is a beautiful merging of awe and animation, played out on a non-verbal proto-human's face. Even as Elliott's T. Rex is spouting the most overused bromide about fear and courage, I'm too anxious for the next sequence to roll my eyes.
The Good Dinosaur is so elemental that it doesn't even have to be about dinosaurs. Any inter-species companionship on a dangerous trek would've worked with minimal alterations. This is one instance, however, where the film convinces me to turn my brain off and submit to the visuals. The Good Dinosaur worked on me, even as I'm being reminded of how derivative the story is, and that's coming from a studio that at its peak, is anything but, and therefore is at a higher standard. The animation and the simple emotion overwhelmed my critical faculties, making this film a success in spite of itself. B+