(I say that as a dinosaur nut who never grew up)
(There's another thing: the settings might be almost indistinguishable from reality, if not for the neon-green aardmanosaurus in the middle of them.)
I've watched The Good Dinosaur again a couple of times (hey, I wouldn't if it was that bad) and these notes became a bit more relevant. I've been into dinosaurs, art, and dinosaur art for years, and this has it's advantages and disadvantages when it comes to watching The Good Dinosaur.
The character designs in the film vary in my opinion (Nyctosaurs with enormous snaggly teeth and squash-faced ceratopsians jump out) but our protagonist, the dinosaur we look the most at, looks very strange to my eyes. We don't and can't know some details about how most dinosaurs looked, but we do know quite a bit about the bones, shape and structure of apatosaurus in particular, if that's what Arlo's supposed to be; even compared to other long-necked sauropods, and there are a lot of specific details that could have been applied. But in the end, to be frank, the only resemblance Arlo has to apatosaurus is a longish neck and four feet. The shape of the head, the shape of the feet (not interchangeable with green elephants), even the shape of the neck and joints of the legs - nothing recognisable. To my eyes he looks more like a green camel with a face like Homer Simpson! It might sound harsh but that's how extreme the difference seems. After the incisive animal caricatures in films like Finding Nemo, Ratatouille and Up, I'm surprised by the apparent lack of legendary Disney research in TGD. It's as if the initial concept sketches weren't developed, just fed straight in to Renderman.
And again, the bright green cartoon dinosaur (among others) jars with the almost totally realistic backgrounds and sets. It's enough to push me out of the story, and wonder about the disparity in effort between the two.
This is another reason why I like the tyrannosaur ranchers so much: still cartoony and abstracted, but they have recognisably tyrannosaurian features - as opposed to allosaurs and others - especially around the head. It's like these characters were given to someone who drove to a natural history museum - or cracked open a search engine.
Oh, and I have to express some outright disgust at the design of the raptor rustlers. Pop culture fans have a stubborn resistance to the idea of feathered dinosaurs, responding with 'ruining my childhood', 'look like giant chickens', 'not the vicious killosaurs of Jurassic Park' and other trite complaints. It's thought that part of the problem is that some of the earlier depictions of feathered dinosaurs, from the late 90's/early 2000's, were just so awful. The same designs ripped off from Jurassic Park and old dinosaur books, but with a few bedraggled feathers at the back of the head, or something that looked like an explosion in a feather duster factory. It's still an uphill struggle against 'less-informed' illustrators, and their commissioners, to put across the view of dino plumage as extensive and organised. Like 'birds with teeth' rather than the phrase that became a minor meme: 'lizard-faced monsters in gorilla suits'.
And then, in 2015, Pixar comes along with 'raptors' who look like lizard-faced monsters in gorilla suits, something half-plucked on a butcher's slab, or like they were caught up in that factory explosion. Gah! Lurleen in particular looked like Madam Mim from The Sword In The Stone, in her dragon form, but gone skinny and purple. It didn't help at all that they drawled like hillbillies, too.
(Ironically, Pixar portrayed feathered dinos so much better in a previous film - Kevin, in Up.)
Spot, sorry to say, got less relatable too. It's that 'kid acting like a dog' thing mentioned elsewhere in this forum. It's cute for five minutes, but for an hour and a half? After a while you start to wonder if he's meant to be human or not. When the howling started, and when he started to out-scent tyrannosaurs (fun fact: thought to have a tremendous sense of smell
) I started to wonder if the writers forgot it. Pixar has a good track record of picking up conceits (What if toys were alive? Why do
monsters hide in kids' closets? What if there were little people in your head, controlling your emotions?) and spinning great stories out of them, but in this case was it a daydream too far?