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Steve, . 27 March 2003
A film review by Steve Rhodes
Copyright 2000 Steve Rhodes
In an era of rapid technological change, the film industry stands out as a veritable dinosaur. So it is all the more noteworthy when a film like Disney's DINOSAUR makes such a stunning visual achievement through radical blending of technologies. Combining some of the most sophisticated computer-generated animation that you've ever seen with (digitally enhanced) live-action backgrounds, the ground-breaking film becomes a dinosaur documentary on steroids. It is the sort of picture that has you sitting there going, "Wow!"
What are sorely absent, however, are Pixar and their band of merry men to craft a script that can hold your attention. Instead, Disney relies on writers John Harrison, mainly a television writer known for his dark pieces in series like "Tales from the Crypt," and Robert Nelson Jacobs, whose only other released script is the senior citizen comedy OUT TO SEA. The result is a story that is a pale imitation of THE LAND BEFORE TIME, which had more endearing characters and more effective humor. In THE LAND BEFORE TIME, the big reptiles were off to find the legendary "Great Valley." In DINOSAUR, they are migrating to a similar looking locale, but this time the lush and peaceful valley is referred to simply as the nesting grounds.
Still, it's not that the script bombs, but that it fizzles. There are several nice sections of dialog, and some imaginative characterizations. But when a Disney film leaves one nostalgic for THE LAND BEFORE TIME, that's not a good sign. They want the kids to come back and see their movie a second time, not go rent the competition's videos.
The way to approach DINOSAUR, however, isn't to ponder how good it could and should have been, but to enjoy what it does best, which is to recreate the world of the dinosaurs toward the end of their reign on earth. Best of all is the realism shown in the skin of the dinosaurs, which has a texture so life-life, that you'll swear they've located real dinosaur flesh and digitally imposed it on computer generated wire-frames. This magic extends to all of the textures including those of the dinosaur's comical sidekicks, a group of lemurs, whose fur can be seen convincingly blowing in the breeze as the lemurs leap from tree to tree.
The story concerns an Iguanodon, Aladar (D.B. Sweeney), who is raised on an island without other dinosaurs by a group of little lemurs. When the matriarch of the lemurs discovers the newly hatched Aladar, the elder of the lemur clan, Yar (Ossie Davis), warns them about Iguanodons. "Things like that eat things like us for snacks," he admonishes them. Zini (Max Casella), soon to be Aladar's best bud, laughs off old Yar's admonition. "This monster's got no teeth," Zini points out. "What's he going to do? Gum us to death?" Soon, Aladar is a thousand times their size, but he is still his original playful self.
After meteors rain down from the heavens, turning the world into something akin to a huge battlefield, Aladar and his "family" end up swimming to the mainland, where Aladar finally gets to meet dinosaurs of various species, not all of them friendly. He is first chased by a pack of blood-thirsty Raptors with some really ferocious teeth and claws. Scariest of all are some chillingly realistic Carnotaurs, which look like T-Rexs, who roar a lot and eat everything in sight.
This brings us to the issue of the film's rating. Disney's animated motion pictures are almost always rated G. In order to make the movie as authentic as possible, Disney allowed the filmmakers to bring DINOSAURS in at a PG rating. But it is an extremely intense PG that has significant potential to scare little ones. These Carnotaurs would have been happy to nosh on little humans, something that the small fry will easily be able to imagine. And when the meteors hit, it may look like the end of the world to impressionable youngsters. After all, for the dinosaurs the event was the start of the end of the line for them.
The body of the story concerns the herd of dinosaurs, as well as Aladar's lemur pals, migrating to the dinosaur's breeding grounds. Along the way, our hero finally meets an eligible female, who at first refers to him as a "Jerkasaurus." The rest of the storyline follows a formula so cast in stone that it could have been written by a computer. Maybe it was.
The movie's press kit proudly brags about what a technical tour de force it is. And rightly so. There were 70,000 lines of software code written by the "Dinosaur software group," it tells us. Since software designers use the word "dinosaur" as a derogatory term, the irony of this claim has a delicious charm to it. Although one can argue whether knowing the amount of code means anything, it did bring to mind the technical genius that went into the production of DINOSAUR. Even if the film has shortcomings, its visuals are nothing short of incredible.
DINOSAUR runs 1:24. It is rated PG for intense images and would be fine for kids around 8 and up. Parents with kids who frighten easily should carefully consider whether their children are ready for this picture.
My son Jeffrey, age 11, loved the movie, giving it a full ****. He particularly liked the computer generated animation. His favorite characters were Aladar and his lemur friends. He said that he enjoyed it when the movie scared him a little bit.
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