NEW YORK — “The Good Dinosaur (Disney), the latest 3-D comedy-adventure from the animation wizards at Pixar, can be thought of as a warm and fuzzy cousin to the “Jurassic” films.
Having conquered the mysterious world of the tween mind in “Inside Out,” Pixar now turns back the clock 65 million years to explore the (purely imaginary) interaction between dinosaurs and man.
“The Flintstones” this is not. But despite a few intense action scenes, “The Good Dinosaur” is wholesome — and often hilarious — entertainment for the entire family.
Director and co-writer Peter Sohn gleefully reworks history by proposing that the asteroid which may have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs never happened. Instead, they evolved in an anthropomorphic fashion, talking and acting just like humans.
In this topsy-turvy world, plant-eating dinosaurs farm the land, while carnivores — such as the mighty Tyrannosaurus rex — are cattle ranchers. The real threat is not from fellow dinos or primitive man, but nature itself.
And so we meet an adorable Apatosaurus named Arlo (voice of Raymond Ochoa) and his extended family of farmers: Poppa Henry (voice of Jeffrey Wright), Momma Ida (voice of Frances McDormand) and Arlo’s rambunctious siblings, Buck (voice of Marcus Scribner) and Libby (voice of Maleah Padilla).
Henry inspires his progeny to make their mark through courage and strength. “Earn it by doing something big in life,” he intones.
That’s easier said than done for Arlo. Sensitive and fearful, he struggles to keep up and win his father’s respect.
Tragedy strikes (shades of “The Lion King”), and Arlo is separated from his family, alone in a strange world. His only companion is a feral Neanderthal boy (voice of Jack Bright), who walks on all fours and howls at the moon.
Arlo fittingly christens his new friend Spot.
And so, this dino “boy” and his “dog” wander the landscape, searching for the way home. Along their path they encounter an array of eccentric characters, including a grizzled T-rex cowboy named Butch (voice of Sam Elliott), who dispenses wisdom around the campfire.
“If you ain’t scared, you ain’t alive,” he says.
There’s a delight in watching “The Good Dinosaur” seamlessly transition from family tale to buddy movie to rip-roaring Western, and then back again. All these genre variations share spectacular backgrounds rendered in photo-realistic fashion.
The real world is scary at times, and the film has its share of intense moments which could give pause to the youngest. No worries for their elders, though: Plucky Arlo inspires as he finds his inner dino and rises to his challenges.
“The Good Dinosaur” is preceded by “Sanjay’s Super Team,” a short animated film that is startling (for Hollywood) in its embrace of organized religion. Director Sanjay Patel draws on childhood memories growing up in India in this dialogue-free tale of a boy who comes to respect his father’s devotion to Hinduism.
Jewish and Christian viewers with small ones in tow will appreciate the cartoon’s affirmation of faith via a child’s vivid imagination. But they may want to combat any potential confusion by giving an age-appropriate primer on the difference between human speculation about the divine — which may or may not have genuine wisdom underlying it — and the revealed truth about God and humanity.
The film contains a few scenes of peril. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.