For starters, Dinosaur is that rarest of Disney animation flicks which is not a musical. There's a thumping James Newton Howard score, but the only singing here comes from trumpeting iguanodons and brachiosaurs. The story, on the other hand, is typical Disney kiddie fare: Iguanodon Aladar (D.B. Sweeney) is orphaned as a wee dino-egg on a remote island, where he is raised, Tarzan-style, by a family of lemurs (er... okay). When a freak meteor strike blows the island away, along with much of the rest of the world, Aladar swims to the mainland with his lemur family on his back, where he meets up with the surviving herbivorous dinosaurs who have banded together to trek to "the nesting grounds," a Waterworld-style vale which hasn't been reduced to desert and ruins like, apparently, the rest of the earth. (And never mind the fallout; there is none...)
Pushed on by embittered leader Kron (Samuel E. Wright), the group struggles across the wastelands, with Aladar quickly becoming the dissenting voice of teamwork, goodwill, and intelligence. Despite his sheltered upbringing, Aladar soon proves to be The Smartest Dinosaur of All Time, managing to save the clan time and time again by magically learning how to dig for water in the desert, how to fight off carnotaurs by banding together as a group, and even advanced tunneling-through-rock techniques. Part warrior, part motivational speaker, Aladar is your dino-Spartacus.
I won't bother to go into the various love-story subplots (involving, quite naturally, Kron's sister Neera (Julianna Margulies)), but suffice it to say there's at least one martyr who takes it for the team, a triumph over evil, incredible odds shattered, and a happy Disney ending. Dinosaur does not go lacking for obviousness.
As for its animation, computer-generated movies took two giant leaps forward with Toy Story and Toy Story 2, yet fall far behind with Dinosaur. While the textures and movements of the dinosaurs look quite realistic, the fur of the lemurs (which appear so prominently, Lemur might have been a better title) look oddly like Muppets on a bad hair day.
Compounding the problems is the weird confluence of genuine landscape photography with digital animation: Imagine animated beasts splashing around in Wild Kingdom streams. This does not convince the audience in the slightest and is disarmingly reminiscent of 1970s TV show Land of the Lost. The effect is so cheesy I was expecting the Sleestaks to show up. This is not Jurassic Park.
Some of the humor is funny, but a lot of the jokes are recycled ("Is he going to gum us to death?"). My personal favorite part of the film is the anklyosaur Url, who plays the dialogue-free part of a panting lap dog. Not highbrow, but humorous.
Kids will probably enjoy the film since it lets them see dinosaurs as heroes of the past. There's not much to think about, and by and large it's all in good fun. In its production notes, Disney acknowledges it took liberties with history by placing lemurs and dinosaurs in the same era. However, its bigger liberty is not mentioned at all: Dinosaurs could not speak English. Oh well.
To the Land... of the Loooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooost!
Run time: 82 mins
In Theaters: Friday 19th May 2000
Box Office USA: $135.6M
Box Office Worldwide: $354.2M
Distributed by: Buena Vista
Production compaines: Walt Disney Pictures, Walt Disney Feature Animation
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 65%
Fresh: 79 Rotten: 43
IMDB: 6.4 / 10
Producer: Pam Marsden
Starring: D.B. Sweeney as Aladar, Alfre Woodard as Plio, Ossie Davis as Yar, Max Casella as Zini, Hayden Panettiere as Suri, Samuel E. Wright as Kron, Julianna Margulies as Neera, Peter Siragusa as Bruton, Joan Plowright as Baylene, Della Reese as Eema