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To begin, let us presume that 65 million years ago, an asteroid made its way out of the belt and sped toward Earth. But then, instead of hitting earth and rendering the dinosaurs extinct, it sped past, missing the planet entirely. Thus, it is inferred that the dinosaurs continue to evolve as opposed to becoming extinct.
This story begins millions of years later, as an Apatosaurus couple, Henry and Ida, become parents. They have three children: Buck and Libby are strong and sure, but Arlo is much smaller than his siblings along with being more awkward and unsure of himself. Still, they all perform the chores of the family farm together. As the children grow bigger and stronger, they look forward to being able to accomplish something “bigger than themselves” in order to place their own mark on the family corn silo. Buck and Libby eventually make their marks, but Arlo’s fear of the chicken he needs to feed each day hold him back, and his brother taunting him certainly doesn’t help matters. His parents look for new ways to ease their son’s many fears, but don’t have much success. Henry tries to encourage Arlo with a new task. A critter has been stealing their corn from the silo, and he wants Arlo to capture it in a trap, then smash it with a mallet. Then he will have earned the right to make his mark like the rest of the family.
Later, Arlo discovers a human child in the trap. In his heart, he is unable to hurt it, and lets the child go. Arlo’s father sees this, and is furious that Arlo did not complete his task. Henry takes Arlo to try to find the human so they can finish the deed. Arlo is terrified as he keeps up with his father in a heavy rainstorm. In a terrible turn of events, Henry to disappears down the river bordering their farm. Arlo and the rest of the family try to continue taking care of the farm, even in their grief, when Arlo finds the human stealing food from them once more. Blaming the child for the loss of his father, he pursues him, until he ends up lost and very far from home.
Much to Arlo’s anger and amazement, it is the human who helps him when he is hungry and hurt. Now, with no common language, along with Arlo’s fears and resentment toward the boy, they must find their way back home through the dangers of unfamiliar territories.
Life can be difficult when you are the smallest. The world around you seems rather frightening, and it doesn’t help when you have a larger brother who takes his amusement from playing on your fears. Yet, all little Arlo can think about is the family mark on the stone wall – the ultimate trophy. Arlo’s father tried to toughen him up by having him capture and kill a critter who is stealing the family’s food. When his father’s death results from pursuit of the critter (a human boy), he wrongly blames it for his misfortune. Even so, the critter, Spot, is determined to gain his friendship. Even thought they are very different on the outside, they realize that they have a lot in common, like the loss of family, and the need for a friend. With Spot’s help, Arlo discovers that he is capable of much more than he ever thought possible. Strength comes from growing up. He also learns to appreciate the joy and beauty in the love of his family, as well as in the little things in the world around him. For these are the most precious things in life, not the trophy he found to be so important in his youth.
This film can also be a wonderful aid in teaching a child scientific thinking. The entire story takes place in a “what if” concept, diverting from actual history. This has the potential to open up possible discussions on the actual scientific theories surrounding dinosaurs and evolution, and how plausible you each feel that the story could be.
(If you have additional ideas on how this film can be used for educational purposes, please let us know in the comments below.)
Poppa Henry: Okay, now take a walk out there.
Arlo: By myself?
Poppa Henry: Go on.
Arlo: Poppa! Poppa!
Poppa Henry: Calm down. Breathe… Sometimes you gotta get through your fear to see the beauty on the other side.
Poppa Henry: You’ve got to earn your mark by doing something bigger than yourself.
Forrest Woodbush: [about Spot] He can protect me, like my friends. [describing his pets] This is Fury. He protects me from the creatures that crawl in the night. This is Destructor. She protects me from mosquitoes. This is Dreamcrusher. He protects me from having unrealistic goals. And this is Debbie. [silence; Debbie the bird tweets at Forrest] Yes, we need him.
Butch: Don’t overthink it, kid.
A single moment can change history. A single kindness can change everything.