Directed by Ralph Zondag, Eric Leighton
Cast Voices: D.B. Sweeney, Julianna Margulies, Ossie Davis, Alfre Woodard, Max Casella, Samuel E. Wright, Peter Siragusa, Joan Plowright, Della Reese.
2000 82 minutes
Rated: (for dinosaur violence).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, May 20, 2000.
Last November, audiences who went to see "Toy Story 2" were treated to an advanced look at this summer's tentpole Disney animated feature, "Dinosaur." A beautiful and majestic peek at the world when dinosaurs ruled the Earth, the trailer was awe-inspiring not only because of its revolutionary step forward in visual effects (placing lifelike computer-generated characters in largely live-action settings), but also because, for once, it seemed as if Disney was growing up themselves. It should have been self-evident that the studio had not matured that much, as "Dinosaur" misleadingly appeared to be dialogue-free and a fairly realistic glimpse into the Jurassic era. Instead, what Disney chose to do with this supposed-to-be-insurrectionary family film is they not only gave the dinosaur characters' voices, but they implanted them in a story that has been recycled in practically every other animated Disney movie ever made, but with only one-tenth of the charm and entertainment value. The animation may be the most realistic created, but that is where the compliments stop for the abysmally featherbrained "Dinosaur."
The sweeping prologue (the only section that spares us stock character voices), in which an Iguadon egg becomes misplaced from its mother's nest, and through a series of circumstances, ends its journey on an island primarily populated by Lemurs, tiny, kind, monkey-like creatures, is as imaginative as this picture gets. When they egg hatches, there is a moment of pause by the Lemurs due to the Iguadon's nature to be a meat-eater, but soon they have adopted him and named him Aladar (voiced by D.B. Sweeney). Time passes and just as Aladar has grown a little older, and a lot larger, tragedy strikes. Narrowly escaping, a violent meteor shower (visually reminiscent of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima) wipes out their entire island. While trekking through a wide, desolate expansion of dry, open ground, Aladar and his four Lemur family members join a group of dinosaurs traveling to a green, more healthy and peaceful place to live, headed by the gruff Kron (Samuel E. Wright).
"Dinosaur" has too many problems to count, but one of its biggest is that the story, written by John Harrison and Robert Nelson Jacobs, was never fully thought out. In fact, there is very little in the way of a plot to speak of, and, aside from having to ward off two violent T-Rex-lookalike Carnotaurs, no true dilemmas to overcome. The film almost immediately shoots down the hopeful notion that it would present a serious look at the alleged nature of dinosaurs, and their interactions with the different species', opting to tell an awkward PG-rated kiddie flick that undiscriminating children will enjoy, but will likely leave all other viewers out in the cold.
There are certain elements that define the quintessential animated Disney film. They are usually inhabited with memorable characters; a rightfully nasty and original villain; have a great deal of heart; are filled with musical numbers that the characters carry out in all their glory; and are superbly animated. "Dinosaur" does away with the musical numbers, which is a somewhat amiable change of pace, but bars the picture from having any other defining or noteworthy qualities outside of its technical skill in the animation arena. Meanwhile, "Dinosaur" is wholly devoid of the three former Disney attributes.
Unlike Minnie Driver in 1999's far superior "Tarzan" or Demi Moore in 1996's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," the voice work, supplied by several well-known actors (i.e. Julianna Margulies, Joan Plowright, Alfre Woodard, etc.), is forgettable, and just like the ho-hum direction by Ralph Zondag and Eric Leighton, their hearts simply do not seem into this project. The writing does not help, as the characters are purely disposable and have few defining personality features to tell them apart, and, most importantly, remember them once the lights go up.
At 82 minutes, almost ten of which are taken up by the end credits, "Dinosaur" is almost over before it begins, and good riddance. A crushing bore in the story and character department, and not taking full advantage of its grandiose vision (save for the astounding opening and the meteor shower sequence), "Dinosaur" is a distressingly lifeless concoction. The fact that it holds so much promise makes the outcome all the more calamitous.
©2000 by Dustin Putman