Original Release: May 19, 2000
Runtime: 82 Minutes
Directed By: Ralph Zondag and Eric Leighton
Notable Actors: D.B. Sweeney, Ossie Davis, Alfre Woodard, Max Casella, Hayden Panettiere and Julianna Margulies
I’ve decided that somewhere out there is a stone tablet which lays down the laws throughout all of history for Dinosaur films. Rule number one, the golden rule if you will, of these films must be this: Dinosaur Movies must be depressing. The Land Before Time, The Good Dinosaur, Jurassic Park, and now today’s film, Dinosaur all follow this simple rule. Little Foot’s mom dies. Arlo’s dad dies. All the lemurs in this film, dead as dead can be. Dead da dead da dead dead. Drama, tears, depression. That’s what I’ve come to expect from dinosaur movies. Alright, I’m getting ahead of myself. There’s some real technical awesomeness at work in this film and we need to talk about it, before all the, you know, death stuff. Let’s get to it as this week we join the adventure of a dinosaur, some lemurs, some older dinosaurs and a meteor.
The first thing you’ll probably notice about Dinosaur is that it isn’t 100% animated. The crew traveled the world filming several sequences in Canaima National Park, in Venezuela, as well as Angel Falls in order to create the stunning backgrounds in the film. That’s right, this film combines computer animated Dinosaurs with real life backgrounds in order to create its unique look. I will say that this was not the only project to do this. It was preceded by the 1999 BBC special, Walking With Dinosaurs. Same idea, less family fun.
Dinosaur was actually pitched as a stop motion film first, back in 1988. It was a much darker film back then. The dinosaurs didn’t speak and the meteor hit at the end, killing all the characters. Sounds like a fun filled family film to me! Oh wait, no it doesn’t. A big reason that the dinosaurs were not going to speak was that they wanted to avoid being compared to The Land Before Time, which had very similar themes. As a side note, The Land Before Time was my favorite film as a kid. I had a stuffed dino named Little Foot who’s neck I squeezed so hard as I carried him around that his head flopped to the side. End side note.
George Scribner, the original director, left about half way through to join the Imaginneers but the film remained fairly similar when the current directors took over. They made it a must to learn as much as possible about dinosaurs but were also realistic about the fact that this simply wasn’t a documentary, meaning that they would often cheat as to which dinosaurs could appear together and how they would interact with each other. As a fun extra tidbit, this was also the second film to use the opening sequence as its trailer, taking after the previous hit, The Lion King.
I go back and forth on Dinosaur. There are things about it I absolutely love. Make no mistake, I am a huge fan of anything with dinosaurs in it. I can often overlook flaws for the sheer fact that a T-Rex shows up. Case in point, I loved loved loved Jurassic World. I love that the preciousness of life is such an important theme and I love that the filmm takes great pains to show us just how significant our little lives can be. That being said, there are plenty of things that I feel Dinosaur gets pretty wrong in its creation of a story worthy of the Disney Classics name. As a note to this, I will say that in the UK it is not considered part of the canon.
Let’s start with the good. Dinosaur is visually amazing. Every shot and frame is stunning and especially at the time of release, it’s easy to see how this film would have made some waves. From the animal’s movements to the sprawling backgrounds, everything just pops. But with the good, comes some bad. The film opens with these great vistas and lush forests and waterfalls, but about twenty minutes in, we get introduced to the desert wastelands of the dinosaur world and we sort of just stay there. The film takes this turn towards the palette of brown and beige and it doesn’t really leave until the very end. I get it. This is a struggle for survival and food BUT wow, it just looks so boring. The greater part of the film has this dead, uninspired feel and while it makes sense from a story perspective, it left me longing for more color. The dinos themselves don’t help as, in trying to be realistic, they too blend into this brown world and further the fact that the world just feels dead.
I generally like the cast. Aladar is a do-good, see the best in others, kind of guy and he really strives to prove the point that every life matters. His older comrades, Baylene and Eema are funny old ladies and they’re a pleasure to get to know as well. The problem I have with the “Every life has value” idea is that the film sort of has a hard time following it. Aladar protects the older dinosaurs but we often see other dinos dying along the way, and I have to wonder, where was he during this? How did he not get a chance to save them? Not to mention that by midway through, we’ve seen a ton of death. This is definitely one of the more gruesome Disney films we’ve watched.
The fact that other dinosaurs are dying also has a strange feel because I often felt like we were only meant to care about dinosaurs who had a voice. So many dinosaurs in this film simply don’t talk and just make chirping or roaring noises. I’m confused. Can only certain dinosaurs speak? Is there a reason the evil carnotaurs can’t talk back? It’s so odd. It’s like if in Robin Hood, only Robin and Little John could talk and all the other animals just growled. It doesn’t seem to make sense.
Our villain, Kron, is a pretty nasty guy. I especially don’t love that he shoves his sister around and stops children from drinking water. It bares the question, why has no one taken him down already? I’m sorry, but Baylene could just step on him. There’s not a lot of reason for him to still be in charge aside from the fact that maybe the other dinos, who can’t speak, simply are too uneducated in this world to know better? Also, who names their son Bruton and doesn’t expect him to be a jerk face?
Then, on top of all of this, there’s this love story between Aladar and Neera. Admittedly, I don’t mind this. I like the idea of Aladar finally meeting one of his own kind. He’s a good guy and we really start to feel like he deserves some love for all the love he puts out into the world. Neera suffers from a consistent Disney problem in that she is fairly useless. She’s primarily there to give Aladar that love interest but there’s very little more to her character. I like that she’s the only other one in the pack with a heart (And one of the only one’s with a voice) but at the end of the day, she adds a very minor piece to this story.
I’ve been pretty hard on this film, I know, but the more I started to break it down, the more flaws I discovered. It’s a beautiful film with great visuals and a stunning soundtrack, but the story often feels cliched and overly childish. It feels like it should have been hand animated so that the goofiness and the jokes fit more, but with all the realism, you start to notice inconsistencies. The problem is that when a film looks so real, it also needs to feel real and this just doesn’t. It’s as if it has a crisis of self. It certainly is not the worst film we’ve seen in this series so far, but it strays to far to be considered the best.
Dinosaur does prove one thing though, and it’s something I’m quite happy about. I’m glad to see Disney trying new things, taking risks and growing with technology. It feels like a step in the right direction to know that they are trying to change with the times. After all, we know that Disney has always been at the front end of trying new tech in films and I can only imagine where they’ll go from here. Now sit back and take a deep breath because our next Vault Disney article will not only be on my Birthday, it will also have the esteemed honor of being not only my favorite DIsney film, but also my favorite film…EVER!
Next Up: The Emperor’s New Groove
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NOTE: Obviously all the photos are courtesy of Disney Entertainment and I would never in a million years claim them as my own. That being said, all are actually taken with my phone during our viewing in order to capture the moment in a slightly different way than originally intended.
ALSO: My Fiancee has a blog too and he is talking about all the classics we are currently watching, which involves more than just Disney. Head overHERE and check it out!