Following in the cerebral, successful steps of Inside Out, The Good Dinosaur isn’t the greatest Pixar film ever made — but its painstaking replication of the Real World is simply astounding.

This would be a good way to describe the critical unanimity, as director Peter Sohn’s The Good Dinosaur evolves into theaters during an American holiday weekend buzzing with economic activity.

The Good Dinosaur emerges as a visually breathtaking work of computer-generated animation that is ultimately unable to compensate for a disappointingly derivative script,” Michael Rechtshaffen synopsized in The Hollywood Reporter. “Despite the workable premise, which imagines a world in which dinosaurs have been spared extinction and ultimately can co-exist with humans, the film proceeds to tread an awfully familiar path.”

In this, The Good Dinosaur suffers the same anxiety of influence plaguing other cli-fi films attempting to sublimate the apocalypse — and its extinction events, however alternative. They sacrifice too much narrative capital pointing too often at the past — in The Good Dinosaur’s case, How to Train Your Dragon, The Jungle Book, The Lion King, and more — but still manage to look great while doing it.

The Good Dinosaur is second-level Pixar all the way,” Richard Roeper somewhat ranted at the Chicago Sun-Times. “From a dinosaur who bit off the end of her own tail to escape death to grotesque flying killers that chomp at everyone in their sight to a little boy who bites EVERYTHING he can get his teeth on, you’ve never seen so much biting in a movie. Exiting the 3-D screening, I half-expected to see teeth marks on my arm.”

The Good Dinosaur’s animal and environmental realism is the result of exhaustive labor and data. Last month, IO9 more technically broke down how Pixar processed terabytes of United States Geological Service information to achieve a nearly seamless digital reproduction of Earth’s most real places, to get metafictional about it, like the Grand Tetons and Wyoming’s Jackson Valley.

Indeed, in the annals of Pixar’s achievements, The Good Dinosaur may be most notable for more accurately rendering, yet still somewhat muting, the indispensable value and beauty of the Real World, than it will be for having something substantial to say about it. “The Good Dinosaur is easily one of the great landscape films of 2015, even if what unfolds against that landscape isn’t always as captivatingly rendered,” said Justin Chang in Variety.

“Though those vistas are nominally prehistoric — this is a film about dinosaurs, remember — the animators were inspired by trips they took to the contemporary American Northwest,” said Los Angeles Times’ Kenneth Turan of Pixar’s majestic photorealism. “Visions of raging rivers, an eternity of trees, even a field of fireflies, are reason enough to see the film all by themselves.”

Indeed, Pixar’s technical and artistic brilliance is never in dispute, from the marketplace to the makers who animate its blockbusters. The Good Dinosaur’s reality-warping animation continues to shine Pixar’s legacy, explained the New York Times, even if its medium softened its post-apocalyptic message.

The Good Dinosaur has a few things on its mind, but its tone is overwhelmingly playful, not hectoring,” the Times’ Manhola Dargis concluded. “Like most children’s movies it offers a lesson or two, mostly about being true to yourself (and the equally helpful message to always follow the river), but what lingers is the beautiful animation that’s by turns painterly and borderline photorealist and, in itself, an ode to the natural world.”

Check out the film and report back here with your opinion in the comments below. As always, this talkback is open only to those who have seen the film and wish to share an opinion about it.

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Scott Thill

Scott Thill

Scott Thill is a freelance writer, his work has appeared in Wired, Salon, The Nation, and Rolling Stone. Visit his site Morphizm.com.

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