The Good Dinosaur
You have nothing to fear, but fear itself.
The Good Dinosaur is Pixar’s smallest movie about its biggest creatures.
The movie takes place in a world where dinosaurs are the dominant species, as opposed to humans, who, in this movie, basically act like dogs. They don’t talk, they howl at the moon, and for some reason, they have a better sense of smell than the dinosaurs. At some point in the movie, a group of dinosaurs, any of whom could technically inhale an entire tree with the branches still attached, uses a boy to sniff out a herd of buffalo that any of us can smell anytime we pass it in a car with the windows up.
Pixar’s dinosaurs are evolved, but not to the point where they’ve built vehicles, probably because those run on dead dinosaurs.
Many years ago, an asteroid was hurtling toward the planet, but at the last moment it just passed by, and all the dinosaurs looked up for a moment and then they went back to eating. And now they live in a society that revolves mostly around food. They’re all Jewish, I guess.
The story starts with an apatosaurus couple named Henry and Ida. (See?) Henry and Ida are very efficient farmers. They can plant an entire field of corn in five minutes by digging trenches with their noses and then watering the field by spitting water from a nearby river. This gives them plenty of time to not teach their kids how to swim.
“Pretty good, considering I have no cement, huh? I forgot to build a door.”
But remember: This is a world without the sin of Adam and Eve. So farming is easy, children are born out of eggs, there is no money to speak of, nobody wears clothes, and snakes have weird little arms and legs.
“Can I interest you in some fruit? No?”
They’ve evolved to the point where they’ve developed a society that vaguely resembles the Old West, but with way more biting as a form of conflict resolution. They haven’t evolved the ability to build vehicles, for example, probably because those generally run on dead dinosaurs.
Henry and Ida have a number (3) of kids, the smallest of whom is Arlo, who’s pretty small for a dinosaur.
“Um, I can’t see.”
Naturally, Arlo is scared of everything. It’s a dangerous world out there, made even more dangerous by the fact that everyone is a dinosaur. In his first moments of life, he’s scared to leave his egg, which is the size of a small apartment. He’s even scared of the family’s seriously ugly prehistoric chickens, though one has to wonder why a family of herbivores needs chickens. Do these chickens exist entirely to help eat their food supply?
But then one day, Arlo gets swept away by the river only days after his father got swept away forever in a completely separate river-related incident, and he finds himself alone in the big, scary world. But then he meets an undomesticated boy whose parents are no longer in the picture, which is not surprising, because there are dinosaurs EVERYWHERE. At first he fears this boy, but then he adopts him as a pet and names him Spot, and the two go on adventures together, fight off predators together, and eat hallucinogenic berries together. They eventually become friends, which is no surprise. Kids love dinosaurs.
They also play with action figures together.
Arlo and Spot have to get home by following the river, but there are a lot of obstacles in their way.
Pictured: Obstacles. I don’t even want to think about what Arlo’s stepping in here.
But throughout all these obstacles, Spot teaches Arlo to conquer his fears. This kid is tiny by dinosaur standards – even smaller than Arlo – but he’s fearless. He jumps right into the fray and protects Arlo from starvation, snakes, and hillbilly velociraptors. He probably even thinks Arlo is his pet, which gives us a lot to think about. Do my goldfish view me as their pet? I’m not sure they’re aware I exist.
Humans and snakes: At each other’s throats since the year 1.
Basically, Spot teaches Arlo that fear has nothing to do with size. All the big dinosaurs Arlo meets along the way have fears, but the one character who doesn’t seem to have any is the smallest one. For example, Arlo meets Forrest Woodbrush, a Styracosaurus who is entirely paralyzed by fear, and who protects himself entirely with small animals. But what does he do with his life, with all that protection? He does nothing but hide in the trees, collecting more and more small animals, who may actually think he’s protecting them.
Pictured: Dinosaur bling
Dinosaurs are supposed to be fearless creatures. The idea is that if you’re big, there’s no reason to be afraid. But, as this movie shows, even dinosaurs are afraid.
“If you ain’t scared,” says a cowboy Tyrannosaurus, “you ain’t alive.”
Pictured: Arlo, alive. For the moment.
Being small or underpowered isn’t a handicap. The Maccabees were small. And yes, they were scared. The Book of the Maccabees talks about how, when Judah leads the Maccabees into their first battle after his father’s death, the Maccabees tell him they’re terrified of the Greek army. And understandably so. They had no guarantees that they would win the battle. They were fighting elephants, for G-d’s sake. But they also weren’t going to win by sitting around and playing dreidel. They had to face their fears, and by doing so, make a mark on history.
To make your mark in the world, the movie says, you have to figure out your mission in life and do something bigger than yourself. And how do you know where your mission lies? It lies right beyond your fear.
At the beginning of the movie, Henry teaches Arlo about conquering his fears. Henry is just full of folksy wisdom that Midwesterners get from farming all day. Henry plants seeds, and up comes corn and folksy wisdom. Which is also a type of corn, I guess.
“You have to get through your fears,” Henry says, “to see the beauty on the other side.”
Though sometimes neither side is particularly gorgeous.
I have a kid who walks out in middle of movies when he gets scared. I always make him go back and finish them. Am I a mean father? In my experience, it’s what you don’t see – what your imagination fills in – that’s the scariest. If you’re scared, it’s because you don’t know how the character can get out of the situation. You have to see how he does it so that you know, and your mind doesn’t have to fill in the blanks.
This is the extent of my folksy wisdom: Years of experience watching movies. It taught me that the only movies that give me nightmares are the ones I turned off in middle – where a scary scene came on and my parents, “That’s too scary for you. Go to bed and… try to fall asleep.”
“Don’t overthink it,” says Butch, the head of the Tyrannosaurus clan. Overthinking a fear just makes the fear bigger. There’s a fine line before a scary situation when preparation just becomes procrastination. Take it from a writer.
The only way to overcome your fears is to face them head on. If you run, they’ll always be your fears. I recently had to go through a medical procedure that was not incredibly serious, but it was terrifying to me, because it involved needles. In my back. But the procedure was supposed to relieve a ton of pain that I was constantly in that was worse than the needles. Yet my big focus was the needles. And the I.V. tube. So I went for it. My idea was to lie there, focus on my goal, and not overthink what I had to do to get there. Or the hospital gown, which, as I lay on my stomach, covered absolutely nothing. I covered the gown.
The Maccabees had a people to save. They had to get home. They had to keep their eyes on the prize, but not overthink the way to get there. As the small “animal” in the situation, they were accompanied by a bigger animal than even the Greek army – G-d himself. Only by powering through those fears could they get to the beauty on the other side – the Temple, their home.
“I think we’re on the wrong mountain.”
Sometimes these days, it feels like we’re some small animal and the whole world is against us. We’re far from home, and we’re scared to journey there. Many people are afraid of going home these days. They’re afraid of visiting Israel. But the Maccabees faced their fears. They just learned some krav maga moves geared to taking down elephants, and they went for it. Sometimes the only way to get home is to go through your fears.