Sadly, this movie means we are officially out of our Disney Renaissance days. The next decade is going to see a few things that the 90s did not, for better or worse: 1) more original stories, 2) strange re-imaginings of classic stories/tales, 3) the rise of computer animation (for better or worse), and 4) the disappearance of Disney songs (in the majority of movies… a few sneak in).
I’m sad already.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t some hidden gems in this era, much like there was in the Disney Dark Ages of the 70s and 80s. We’ll get to those later. This movie, Dinosaur, isn’t what I would call a “gem,” but it certainly isn’t bad. There are far worse movies in Disney’s canon than this one, in my opinion. This movie is just… it’s familiarly weird. That’s the only way I can describe it.
What I mean by that is that literally everything about this movie just isn’t what you’d think of when you think of “Disney Animated movie.” Back in 2000, I knew Disney put it out, but I didn’t think it was part of the animated canon until I literally saw it listed on the list on Wikipedia, I dunno, like 8 years ago?
What do I mean when I say this movie isn’t Disney? You have to understand something. Until this point, my childhood had been filled with Disney movies that were musicals. They were adaptations of fairy tales or books. They were everything I just listed up there. This movie wasn’t any of those things, so I think my teenage brain stored it somewhere else.
So this movie is weird. I’ll try to explain that more as I go, but for now, so I don’t get off topic and start rambling, here’s the plot:
In the beginning of this movie (which is insanely well done btw), we see the attack on an Iguanadon nest/herd by a predator called a Carnataurus. This attack leaves one little egg all alone. It soon gets picked up by another smaller predator, who loses it, and eventually this egg is carried down the river and then in a Pterasaur’s mouth to an island, where a group of Lemurs find it and decide to raise the little Iguanadon, Aladar, as their own.
Fast forward some number of years later, and the lemurs are having their annual pairing-off ritual. This is cut short, however, as they watch a giant meteor plummet into the ocean just past their island. Aladar manages to get off, rescuing only part of his lemur family: Yar – the grandfather, Plio – his “mother,” Suri – her daughter, and Zini – Plio’s brother. They reach the mainland and start their search for a new home and other animals.
Their search isn’t for too long, because eventually they run into a herd of miss-mosh species that were also driven from their homes from the fireball and are now on their way to the “nesting grounds,” which is believed to have been shielded from the blast.
Led by a socially darwinistic iguanadon Kron, Aladar and his family struggles to fit in, seeing as they believe everyone should have the chance to survive. They travel, we get a love interest in Kron’s sister Neela, and Aladar decides to lend a hand and stay in the back with the older, slower dinosaurs Baylene (a Brachiosaur) and Eema (a Styracosaurus). At one point they get separated because they weren’t moving quick enough and get stuck in a cave after hiding from the ever evil Carnataurs. After fighting them and causing a landslide, they get stuck in the cave and travel to the back to find the way blocked except for a little sliver of light. Baylene saves the day by breaking through it and low and behold, the nesting grounds were behind it!
But of course, there’s a problem. The way they used to get in is all blocked. Knowing that Kron is going to send the herd up and that they will die from the drop, Aladar races back through the cave and to the rest of the herd. He has an argument/fight with Kron, Neela stands up for him, and he begins to lead the herd past. However the way is blocked by the one surviving Carnataur. Aladar tells the herd to “stand together” so he can’t pick them off, and they manage to get past. Well, everyone but Kron, who refused to go with them. the Carnataur goes after him, Neela and Aladar follow to rescue him, but both end up dying. Sad.
But happy! Everyone ends up at the nesting grounds having babies. The end.
The most agreed upon criticism of this movie is that that plot is crap. We’ve seen it before, it’s nothing new, and the characters don’t do anything to make it memorable. While I will agree that the plot is very familiar, I don’t think it’s fair to go so far and say that it’s exactly like The Land Before Time or any other dinosaur oriented movie. There are differences not only in actual plot or the actual characters but the motivations and relationships between characters. Some of them can thoroughly be enjoyed.
In Dinosaur, you have this really unique set-up idea that different types of animals have a different worldview. It’s not prejudice, it’s just differences of opinion. You have the dinosaurs who see their lives and actions governed by Social Darwinism: survival of the fittest. If someone drops dead, too bad, you just leave them. Then you have the mindset of the mammals (the lemurs in the movie) that if you work together as a team, everyone will reach their goal. (wow that sort of sounds like communism. ah well)
Yes I know. A biology person like me should have major issue with this because that’s obviously not the mindset of mammals and technically all animals do the whole “survival of the fittest” thing, but I’m willing to look past it because this is a movie and they’re using it to explain a point and the lesson of the Disney movie.
Straddling this gap between the dinosaurs and mammals we have our main character, Aladar. He’s a dinosaur but was raised by lemurs, so his mindset is more like them. He struggles to fit in wherever he goes, and can’t help but try and explain his views to the others because to him, it’s common sense. He’s an enjoyable enough character even if he is a bit “bland.” His difference is this mindset and his compassion, which does make him different enough (in my opinion) to be memorable.
The dinosaurs Aladar and his family are traveling with are not viewed as “bad” (save one), but instead, they just need help. You could say Aladar is more selfless than the other dinosaurs because of his mindset, and this might be the lesson Disney wanted you to walk away with. Travel slow and help others, and everyone is happy in the end (I honestly don’t know what I think about that lesson…). Our stubborn leader, Kron, could be argued as a bad guy, but I don’t think this is actually fair to him. He’s just stubborn and set in his ways. He views Aladar’s help as a challenge and can’t give in and seem weak.
We also have another villain, the more prehistoric (as in, apparently doesn’t have the smarts to talk in this movie…) Carnataur. He’s what instills fear in the hearts of our dinosaurs and leads to this belief of survival of the fittest in Kron – if someone else is getting eaten, it means you’re not! It’s kinda interesting we have this 2-tiered villain structure, and to a point it works, but I wonder if focusing more on Kron (even if the Carnataur is an off-screen villain) wouldn’t have worked better.
Along with Aladar, we have his family of Lemurs, including Grandpa Yar, rational and sweet Plio and her daughter Suri, and wise-cracking Zini. Most of these characters are sadly forgettable, although they are enjoyable (if that’s possible).
On Aladar’s side with the Dinosaurs we have the elderly but dainty Brachiosaurus Baylene, tough Styracosaurus Eema, and ankylosaurus Url (who again is apparently dumb enough he can’t talk). It’s nice to have some older characters in a movie like this, and it’s nice that our young protagonist isn’t too “good” to make friends with them. They see how nice that is too, claiming that Aladar made them feel wanted again. They’re good characters and central to the plot and motivation of our characters, but again, they’re all a bit forgettable.
Finally we have Neera, Aladar’s love interest. She doesn’t get enough screen time in my opinion, but I like her story. She’s the one who has her mind changed during the course of the movie, and begins to believe what Aladar believes in and falls in love with him because of his compassion and bravery. He instills in her hope, and she’s the one who eventually stands up for what he believes in even when he’s not there.
Ok, so I’m with the critics on this one. The plot and the characters are just eh. They’re good for the movie, but on the whole they’re forgettable. The ideas and the lesson are also kinda blah. It’s an interesting idea, but I don’t think it was executed in the best way.
Now let’s talk about where this movie excels. And this is why I think this movie is “weird.” First of all. The animation is GORGEOUS. I’m not talking about the backgrounds, because those are actual live-action filmed backgrounds. I’m talking about the dinosaurs themselves. This movie was made 14 years ago. You would expect us to be able to tell that these are CGI. But you can’t. The way the muscles move on them. The detail on the skin. The coloring. Sure their movement is a bit awkward, but I’m willing to forgive that. It is still unbelievable. This is why I keep posting pictures in this review. Gorgeous!
The live-action backgrounds were a stroke of genius. I remember when I first learned that they were actual backgrounds. I almost figured they were cgi too because of how good the dinosaurs were. The two fit seamlessly and you forget you’re watching a hybrid movie like Pete’s dragon. The trees and water are all real. The caves and mountains are all real. Even when Aladar’s escaping his island and getting blasted with bits of exploded ultra hot meteor? Real! (they launched fireballs from the trees on a path to the ground… crazy!) It’s gorgeous and I would watch this movie strictly for the animation.
I would also watch this movie strictly for the music. Yes there are so songs (I think that was a good call… that would have completely and utterly ruined this movie…), but the score is drop dead gorgeous. James Newton Howard’s score fits the movie beautifully and fills it with emotion that the characters might not be so good at conveying. It’s one of the saving graces for the movie. I own this soundtrack and still constantly listen to it.
I also want to say that this movie has a strange but awesome voice cast (except D. B. Sweeney… he’s kinda flat…) including Juliana Margulies, Ossie Davis, a young Hayden Panettiere, Samuel E. Wright (Sebastian!!) and Max Casella…
This movie isn’t great. It’s not good even. But somehow, it manages to be enjoyable. It’s forgettable characters and familiar plot might hurt it, but at the same time, sometimes you just need a movie like that. I agree with the critics and what they say about this movie. I hate that it’s not better, but I’ll take it for what it is. I still like it.
I give Dinosaur (2000) a 2.9 out of 5
Up Next: The Emperor’s New Groove (2000)