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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Disneyear: Dinosaur (2000)

Back when I was a kid, I saw the teaser trailer for Dinosaur in a theater when I saw Tarzan. What I got from this was that there where some computer-generated dinosaurs with live-action backgrounds set to this big music, which turned out to be the first five minutes of the film. As a kid I loved dinosaurs so I was hyped up like hell. Strangely, looking back on it as an adult, I've actually completely forgotten that this film even existed until I got back into animation. As I did a little research, I found that this was the first Disney film to be animated with computers (that the studio actually made without Pixar's help). From what I hear, it did pretty well at the box office but got mixed ratings from critics, despite a pretty loyal fanbase. So when I looked at the list of Disney animated films I was going to do and this was the next one, I was kind of optimistic about it. I mean I liked it fine as a kid, so let's see if it still holds up! An hour and a half later... um, let's just say it wasn't quite as I remember. Well let's travel back in time to see what didn't go right with Dinosaur.

The story goes that a little Iguanodon egg gets orphaned but is raised by lemurs after he hatches, much to the elder's reluctance. They name him Aladar and make him part of the lemur clan. A meteor shower destroys their home, so Aladar and what's left of his clan try to find a new home. After being chased by some Velociraptors, they bump into more dinosaurs looking for a promised land where they can live in peace. The problem is they're led by a pair of brother Iguanodon that aren't that nice. Aladar also meets up with three older dinosaurs that bring up the rear and they become fast friends. After one of the brothers gets injured, they offer to help him out despite previous feelings. That is until some predator dinosaurs called Cartotaurs show up. The former jerk holds them off, but loses his life in the process. The group then bump into a pile of rocks that they clear to coincidentally lead them to the promise land. Aladar is disheartened to find the rest of the herd didn't make it yet and finds the old route is blocked by a rock slide. He goes back to find that the jerk that's left tries to make the others climb over the wall to their deaths. After a Carnotaur attack, Aladar leads the herd to safety and even starts a family at the end.

Reading the summary, you can see where Dinosaur largely falls flat: this story is basically Moses. We all know it and know what's going to happen. Now you know I'm willing to put up with something like this as long as we get something new and adult out of it. That is not at all what we get. The characters are so bland and so tired. As soon as you see the main character, you know what he's going to be like: a all-around role model that cracks a joke every now and then. The supporting cast is almost as bland. The love interest is... just a love interest. The jerk leader is.. no wait, there's two of them! Now we can do both story arcs: one where he realizes his mistakes and the other who's so stubborn and doesn't learn.

Well, great! That's two cliches for the price of one!
Even with that beautiful landscape I was promised with in the trailer was traded in for desert. I know what angle we have here: the meteor destroyed everything and they're suffering. But if your story is as bland as it is here, at least you can give us something interesting to look at other than the animation (which to be fair is pretty good.)

Like this! More green, less beige!
I don't mind if animals talk in movies. I really don't. The weird thing here is that only a handful can talk but the rest don't. I never got that. Remember when I mentioned that the main character meets up with three other dinosaurs that are lagging behind? Well, one of them acts like a dog. Wait, what?!? If it were another animal, I can understand. But when other dinosaurs can talk and this one acts like a dog, that's... just too odd. Speaking of dialogue, there's a lot of unnecessary modern-day phrases in this film like "love monkey" which only deteriorates the timeless value of this film. Some of the dialogue from the character that even said that is pretty damn annoying.

As with every Disney movie, there's a few things that I kind of like in this one. For instance, my favorite characters were these two older dinosaurs that brought up the rear. They know that they're slowing everyone down, but   try to be optimistic about it. The mother character was nice and I do kind of like it when one of the jerks realizes his mistakes and is even ready to make sacrifices to make things right. And like I said, the animation's not that bad and the score's good.

The ones I like are on the far left and upper right.
Nothing's really that bad about Dinosaur. It's not insulting or morally damning. It's just been done before and very predictable. I know there's only so many variations you can do on a story. The more you bring something new to the table, that's what makes a difference. This film didn't bring enough. I don't hate it, I just found it surprisingly underwhelming. But I know this film has it's fans and if you do like it, that's cool. If you want to see it after the trailer I showed you, go give it a watch. However, if the same things that annoy me annoy you, I'd say skip it.

But if you're in the mood to see an animated film with dinosaurs that actually is good, check out Don Bluth's The Land Before Time instead. Released on the same weekend as Oliver and Company, this film as most of us know is really good. What makes this film work over Dinosaur is that it seems more timeless. You feel what the main character's pain and struggle they're going through because they're much younger, which makes the danger more suspenseful. On top of that, all of them had unique personalities so you can emotionally identify with them more. It's surprisingly more like a Disney film than some of the ones I had to review this year. So if for whatever reason you never saw it, go check it out.

It's the same story but better.

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