We can only hope in some small way, our time here will be remembered.
Dinosaur is directed by Ralph Zondag and Eric Leighton and stars the voices of D.B. Sweeney, Alfre Woodard, Ossie Davis, Max Casella, Hayden Panettiere, Samuel L. Wright, Julianna Marguiles, Joan Plowright, and Della Reese. It was released by Walt Disney Studios and was the most expensive theatrical release of the year 2000.
The most tempting thing to do right away when discussing Disney's 39th animated feature film is to immediately start gushing about how stunning the film's CG animation looks together with the film's live-action backgrounds. And heads up, there will be some gushing about the animation later on in this review, but for right now, I am not going to discuss the quality of the animation in length. What I want to start with instead is my fascination about the reasons as to why Dinosaur isn't held in higher regard. More specifically, why it isn't ranked on one of the upper tiers of Disney animated features. I mean, the animation is treated like it's a pioneering feat in the field of computer animation, but it's easy to figure out as to why no one put such a badge of honor onto Dinosaur for its animation: Toy Story already won the world over by being the first ever feature length computer-animated film, so pretty much every future computer-animated film afterwards owes Toy Story at least an ounce of credit. In addition, I'll bet whenever anyone said "dinosaur movie" in the 1990's and early 2000's, the first movie that would come to mind would be Jurassic Park or any of its sequels. And then if that weren't enough, the phrase "animated dinosaur movie" would likely bring The Land Before Time to someone's mind, that film coming out in 1988.
How should I put this then? Dinosaur is like that one poor kid in gym class who never gets selected to be on one of the teams. Who wants to be the computer-animated film? I'll take Toy Story. Who wants to be the live-action dinosaur movie? You're up, Jurassic Park! Well, who would like to be the animated dinosaur movie? Nope, going with The Land Before Time. Sorry.
With so much money going into the film (the unofficial amount is $200 million) and with more trivia facts of "the movie was originally going to do this" than you could count, it's reasonable to call Dinosaur something of a colossal disappointment. You can't put that much money into one movie, only for people to look back on the film years later and reply with, "meh, just watch it for the animation." Also, Disney did away with some of the original ideas, such as the film being much darker and violent in tone, as well as making it into a stop-motion animation film. Disney saw how successful Toy Story was with computer-animation, therefore going the safe route by using computer-animation instead of stop motion, and doing whatever else they thought would make Dinosaur more commercially feasible.
Here's what's going on story-wise: Dinosaur opens with an attack by a Carnotaurus (basically a T-Rex), forcing an Iguandon mother to abandon her eggs. One of the eggs survives, being washed away and ending up on an island populated by lemurs. One of the lemurs, Plio (Alfre Woodard), watches as a baby hatches from the egg. She gives the baby dinosaur the name Aladar, deciding to raise it despite objections from her father Yar (Ossie Davis). Some years later, Aladar (D.B. Sweeney) has fully grown and is living happily with all of the lemurs. But one night, a meteor shower strikes and destroys the island. Aladar, Plio, Yar, and a few of the other lemurs are able to escape in time, but they now must travel through the mainland and find a new home.
Aladar and the lemurs travel across the desert-like wastelands, eventually running into a herd of dinosaurs led by Kron (Samuel E. Wright). The herd is on a journey to the "Nesting Grounds", a valley claimed to have been untouched by the meteor strikes. Aladar and the lemurs befriend two elderly dinosaurs: a Brachiosaurus named Baylene (Joan Plowright) and a Styracsaurus named Eema (Della Reese), who are struggling to keep up with the herd. As the herd pushes onward towards the Nesting Grounds, they must avoid a series of predators that are following close behind: a group of Velociraptors and two hungry Carnotaurus.
Dinosaur was the only film produced by special effects company The Secret Lab, which was shut down a year after the film's release due to being too expensive. There's a much larger tale at work behind why The Secret Lab was a massive failure for Disney, so for the truly curious: I point you in the direction of this article. The sudden shutdown of The Secret Lab is another factor to take into account when trying to figure out why Dinosaur isn't regarded as any kind of animated classic, already on top of everything I said earlier. This all begs the question: Does this film have anything going for it?
- If you haven't guessed already, the primary high point - and pretty much the only thing going for this movie - is the animation. No, it may not be any kind of cinematic milestone, but there are just so many gorgeous looking shots:
The movie turns its world of dinosaurs into a spectacle of massive proportions, relying on a nice balance of close-up, mid, and long shots to keep its characters in focus while ensuring there is still a sense of wonder behind it all.
- Almost everyone says the main issue with Dinosaur isn't that it's undermined by films that achieved breakthroughs in CGI and animation. Rather, almost everyone says Dinosaur suffers from ineffective writing and dull plotting. For myself, I had the most trouble with the lemur characters, who basically do nothing for the plot after their island is destroyed by the meteor shower. They just follow Aladar and the other dinosaurs on their journey, only offering little bits of advice here and there whenever the plot finds it convenient for them to do so. Other than that, I didn't find anything else about the plot to be bothersome. The movie goes along at a brisk 82 minutes, and I never found myself to be the least bit bored.
So when considering everything, I probably have a more unpopular opinion of Dinosaur. I found it to be an amusing movie that is loaded with visual grandeur, moving along at a fast pace that keeps the movie from being the least bit dull. The problem is the dismay that comes with learning everything that went on with the production, how so many early ambitions were all for naught and how The Secret Lab ended up being a depressing chapter in Disney's history book. There's just too much going on behind the scenes and too many other films that come to mind to allow Dinosaur to stand out on its own, leaving it as a more middle-of-the-road entry in Disney's ever-growing film library. Quite a letdown if you ask me. This film had the potential to be so much more.
Recommend? I would still recommend it because of its stunning animation.
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: