'The Good Dinosaur': Are we in another animated Golden Age?

'Dinosaur' is the newest film from animation powerhouse Pixar. While studios have had stumbles, audiences have been seeing Pixar and Disney, among others, put out some consistently good work over the last several years.

Disney-Pixar/YouTube
'The Good Dinosaur' stars Raymond Ochoa and Jack Bright.

In Pixar’s newest film “The Good Dinosaur,” forget everything you thought you knew about the prehistoric world. 

Dinosaurs survived, for one. In the movie, which is now in theaters, a dinosaur named Arlo befriends a Neanderthal named Spot. The depiction isn’t what a moviegoer might expect from a man-and-animal tale – Spot is crouched and growls, while Arlo is the more sophisticated one. 

The film is the second to be released by animation studio Pixar this year, a rarity. Pixar had skipped producing a movie in 2014. 

The studio is also coming off a massive hit in “Inside Out,” which was released this past summer. “Inside” became a box office smash and was incredibly positively received by critics.

Moviegoers are being given the opportunity to see animated films of very high quality in recent years when one examines the output of, for example, American animation studios. The term “golden age” in terms of American animation has been assigned in the past to a time period in which Disney was starting out after releasing the first feature-length animated motion picture, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” in 1937. That particular “golden age” usually encompasses Disney’s output from “Snow” into the 1960s.

The studio’s fortunes revived in the late 1980s with the release of 1989’s “The Little Mermaid,” and critically acclaimed films like “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King” soon followed.

Disney, once the titan of animation, soon entered troubled creative times, however, with films like “Meet the Robinsons” and “Chicken Little” failing to win over critics. 

Meanwhile, studios Pixar and Dreamworks were both beginning to produce creatively satisfying content. While Dreamworks’ track record is far shakier than perennial winner Pixar, critics and moviegoers alike praised Dreamworks’ “Shrek” series (more so the earlier installments) and the “How to Train Your Dragon” and the “Kung Fu Panda” movies, both of which still continue to be produced. (The studio is by no means perfect, however – recent projects like “Mr. Peabody and Sherman” and “Home” were negatively received by reviewers.)

Pixar, meanwhile, has barely had a stumble since releasing the studio’s first movie, “Toy Story,” in 1995. While some have gotten better receptions from critics than others, there were only one or two movies that got mixed or negative reviews. 

Disney, in the meantime, has caught up. Recent films like the 2012 film “Wreck-It Ralph,” the 2013 movie “Frozen,” and 2014’s “Big Hero 6” all got good notices and have made Disney a power player again in the world of animation.

By this point, calling our era a “golden age” of animation seems somewhat limiting. In fact, if we’ve been in an animated Golden Age, then we might have to decide what our definition of an “age” would be – it would have stretched 20 years by now. That’s when Pixar released “Toy Story” and became a force on the scene. While Disney and Dreamworks’ fortunes have gone up and down, right now, we’re in a time period where the two – especially Disney – are more consistently putting out good content.

Producing good movies is a tricky alchemy, of course, and the successes of the last several years have been the result of certain talent being in the right place at the right time. But at the moment, multiple studios have made animated films an enjoyable and creatively sophisticated choice for a night out.

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