By Adam Donato
Disney took its first step into the computer-generated world of animation with its first blockbuster of the 21st century: Dinosaur. This movie was almost directed by the man who made Robocop, Paul Verhoeven, and was supposed to have a much darker tone with practical effects. Dinosaur was thrown off course due to the successes of other dinosaur movies — The Land Before Time and Jurassic Park. What audiences received is exactly the kind of dinosaur movie that would be expected from Disney. Is that such a bad thing?
Dinosaur is undeservingly forgotten in Disney’s animated film history. The special effects are beautiful, especially for its time. The landscapes are live-action as they were taken straight from gorgeous countries like Venezuela. With the dinosaurs being animated in such a lifelike fashion, they feel like they belong in the world they inhabit. Seeing how these larger than life creatures move around is worth the cost of watching alone. Due to the limitation of non-animated backgrounds, the shots do get repetitive. Take a drink every time a dinosaur runs at the camera or shoves its head into the foreground of a shot. It’s easy to nitpick two decades later, but this was a technical achievement at the time. Almost makes you happy they didn’t use practical effects for the dinosaurs. Funny how Disney was inspired to go fully animated after seeing how well it worked in Jurassic Park. The best looking parts of that movie aren’t computer-generated. Still, very impressive for what it is.
The big knock on Dinosaur is said to be the story. This must be a result of the “Disney-fication” of the movie. It’s said that the original concept for the movie was to be much darker and end with a battle between the humble iguanodon and the ferocious tyrannosaurus rex. The outcome did not matter due to a meteor wiping out all life besides the lemur who was to evolve into mankind. There was also a great deal of religious metaphors with Aladar initially being named Noah, the bad iguanodon named Cain, and the lemur sidekick being named Adam. It’s hard to defend the studio for playing it safe with what is now the ending of the movie. Even the television sitcom Dinosaurs had the guts to have a realistic ending. It’s safe to assume that children know the dinosaurs went extinct. Ignoring what the story could’ve been, what was actually adapted is an uninspired and generic tale. It’s entirely functional as a movie, but pales in comparison to even other Disney animated fare.
When it comes to a Disney movie, it really does come down to the supporting cast to give the movie its personality. The Lion King is iconic in part because of characters like Timon and Pumba. Even if one had just walked out of seeing Dinosaur, it would be impressive if they could remember Eema and Baylene. Aladar is virtuous and unchanging as a protagonist, which would be okay if the impact he had on the supporting characters was more impactful. The characters who opposed Aladar died regardless of whether they changed and the characters being given hope by Aladar continued to embrace said positivity. Kron, the antagonist, is mean and continues to be a jerk up until he is unceremoniously killed by the carnotaurus. Speaking of the carnotaurus, what a terrifying monster. Literally just a t-rex, but red and with devil horns. That’s nightmare fuel, kids. It’s also weird how some dinosaurs just don’t speak, like the carnotaurus. It would’ve probably been weirder if the carnotaurus did start talking at the end, which apparently almost happened. Aladar has a love interest in Neera, but their relationship feels rushed, much like everything in this movie. Also, Zini is supposed to be the comic relief. The keyword in that sentence is supposed.
All these complaints about the story and characters are half-hearted. If this was a Dreamworks movie, it would be in their top five, easily. It just sucks that this is Disney’s entry in the dinosaur genre, but even Pixar had trouble. The journey to the nesting grounds is very rewarding. After trekking through the desert for the majority of this movie, it feels nice when you’re finally reimmersed in the lush beauty of the nesting grounds at the end. The themes about sticking together and finding a new family in people that are different than you is nice. When the herd confronts the carnotaurus together, it’s a nice payoff following the cruel “only the strong will survive” attitude the herd had prior.
The best part of the movie is hands down the opening sequence labeled by the soundtrack as “The Egg Travels”. It perfectly encapsulates the tone that the original concept was going for. Holding onto the darkness originally intended with the terrifying carnotaurus stomping on the poor mother iguanodon’s eggs. The scene follows the only surviving egg as it is passed from dino to dino, allowing the audience to experience the beautiful landscapes that they call home. None of the dinosaurs speak in this sequence as all we hear is when they roar and the music. The score for this scene, and the rest of the movie, is phenomenal. James Newton Howard is a pro and really brought it to this project. This scene really sets the stage for the rest of the movie and presents how grand these creatures really are. The trailer was comprised mostly of this sequence, which maybe gave audiences higher expectations for this movie. This could’ve led to disappointment, for nothing in this movie quite compares to this sequence.
Maybe if another studio would have made Dinosaur, it would have retained the dark tone and lack of dialogue that the feature was intended to be. Then again, what we got wasn’t terrible by any stretch of the imagination. Disney delivered what was their darkest movie to date, if you go by death toll. Still, the movie is breathtaking with its score and special effects. There’s also a badass ride at Disney World’s Animal Kingdom that’s definitely worth checking out. It goes without saying that it’s in the top ten dinosaur movies of all time. If you’re wondering if there are more than ten dinosaur movies, The Land Before Time franchise has 14 installments that went straight to DVD. Dinosaur is a mature children’s flick that’s sure to stand the test of time. Just like dinosaurs themselves, this movie should not be forgotten.
The Snake Hole
Retrospectives, opinion pieces, awards commentary, personal essays, and any other type of article that isn't a traditional review or interview.
Dedicated to unique and diverse perspectives on cinema!