What if dinosaurs had never gone extinct?

That’s the premise of Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur, a playful animated comedy adventure that invites us to imagine that the fateful asteroid that did for the dinosaurs 65 million years ago missed the Earth, allowing evolution to take a different course – and allowing Pixar to give us a Western-type tale of pluck and peril with a young dinosaur as its hero.

Arlo (voiced by Raymond Ochoa) is the runt of an Apatosaurus family of doughty pioneer homesteaders, who are busily turning a patch of wilderness into farmland in what appears to be Northwest America. Unlike his spunkier brother and sister, timid, clumsy Arlo doubts he will ever live up to the expectations of his mother (Frances McDormand) and father (Jeffery Wright), but when events strand him miles from home he must learn to master his fears to get back home.

Arlo’s unexpected companion on this hazardous journey is a feral human child he names Spot (Jack Bright), a bristling, bustling creature who scampers about on all fours and howls rather than speaks.

Director Peter Sohn and screenwriter Meg LeFauve put all manner of hazards in the duo’s path, including run-ins with a gang of scavenger pterodactyls and some buffalo-rustling raptors. The latter encounter brings Arlo and Spot into contact with a cowboy-like Tyrannosaurus rex trio whose ornery leader (a wonderful Sam Elliott) provides some of the film’s most amusing moments.

There’s plenty of slapstick fun to enjoy, too, plus the emotional engagement of Arlo and Spot’s growing bond, but the film’s most impressive feature is its awesomely beautiful rendering of the natural world – from majestic forests and raging flood waters to the glittering phosphorescence of a field of fireflies.

Certificate PG. Runtime 101 mins. Director Peter Sohn