Directed by Ralph Zondag and Eric Leighton
Aladar is an Iguanadon who is raised by a family of lemurs after his egg is stolen from its nest by predators and abandoned on their island. When a meteor strikes and destroys their home, Aladar and his family must strike out onto the dangerous mainland in search of a new place to live.
They soon meet up with a multi-species herd of migrating dinosaurs, who are all headed to a communal nesting ground. Aladar immediately clashes with the herd’s leader, another Iguanadon name Kron. Kron wants to leave the stragglers behind to die, which Aladar is unwilling to do. When the herd’s scouts discover that they are being stalked by two Carnotaurs, Kron abandons Aladar and the weaker dinosaurs – against the wishes of Kron’s sister Neera, who’d befriended Aladar along the way.
Aladar and his friends shelter from a storm in a cave, alongside Kron’s former second-in-command Bruton, who’d been injured by the Carnotaurs. One of the predators finds their hiding spot, and Bruton sacrifices himself to save the others. Aladar and co. explore the cave system further, and eventually find an alternate way into the nesting grounds. They also learn that the main entrance has been blocked by a landslide, which will prevent the herd from entering and leave them vulnerable to the Carnotaur.
Aladar rushes back through the cave to rejoin the herd on the outside. His attempts to warn Kron fall on deaf ears, until Kron attacks him for challenging his authority. Unfortunately, in his haste Aladar led the other Carnotaur right to the herd. Both Iguanadons fight the predator, and Kron is fatally wounded, before Aladar manages to push it off a cliff. Time passes, and Aladar and Neera witness the birth of their children in the nesting grounds.
The impetus for Dinosaur came from, of all people, Hollywood director Paul Verhoeven. The filmmaker, who was known for graphic sci-fi action movies, was working with stop-motion animator Phil Tippett on Robocop when the latter suggested that they collaborate on a dinosaur movie. They pitched it to Disney as a live-action movie, with Tippett providing the dinosaurs via stop-motion. Disney kept working on the project for a time after they both left the project, bringing in multiple directors, but eventually shelved it when Jurassic Park was greenlit (ironically, Phil Tippett would end up working on Jurassic Park himself, and is famously quoted as saying that the movie’s CG effects made his stop-motion career extinct).
In the mid 90s, after seeing the results of both Jurassic Park and Toy Story, Disney execs decided to give it a try as a CG animated movie instead, and transferred the project from the live-action division to Feature Animation. However, Michael Eisner had one caveat: through all of the previous attempts at the screenplay, none of the dinosaurs talked. He insisted that if it was going to be an animated movie, the characters had to talk to each other.
Instead of attempting to digitally create the entire prehistoric world, the animators decided to take a mixed-media approach. They sent two live-action film crews all around the world, to places like Hawaii, Australia and Jordan, to capture footage of both lush and arid environments that they would use as backgrounds to insert the CG characters into. In the end, about 90% of movie used the live-action footage for background elements.
Dinosaur was a financial success on release, debuting at number one at the box office. It did even better overseas. The critical reception was a bit more mixed, though overall they were at least mildly positive about the film. At the time of its release, it wasn’t really considered to be part of the official Disney film canon, as it wasn’t a traditional hand-drawn animated movie. It would be added back in retroactively in the 2010s, after Disney had fully embraced CG animation (and so that the 50th Disney canon movie could be Tangled and not Winnie the Pooh).
I’ve just got to say it straight out. This movie kinda sucks. I know I was kind of mixed on a lot of the latter Renaissance films, but even Pocahontas looked really good. I tried to think of something really positive to latch onto for this review, but I unfortunately came up with nothing.
About the best that I could come up with is that occasionally some of the live-action background footage was pretty. That is, when it wasn’t all brown. Which it is for most of the movie. That wouldn’t necessarily be a problem – if pretty much all of the characters weren’t also brown. I don’t care how photorealistic your dinosaurs are if there’s nothing visually interesting happening with them.
It doesn’t help that there isn’t anything interesting happening with the plot either. The movie is pretty much a rip of the plot to Bluth’s The Land Before Time, only with older characters who aren’t even half as interesting. Okay, sure, you could argue that Littlefoot and Co. weren’t in a herd and had to make their way on their own. But many of the plot beats: the attempt to get to a promised safe place that’s filled with greenery, the predator stalking them (which doesn’t talk, unlike the others), etc, are straight out of the Bluth film.
As for the characters themselves, they seems to have two different types: bland, or annoying. Aladar is nice and naive, but otherwise doesn’t have much in the way of personality. Neither does his love interest, and the other dinosaurs he attempts to protect are just stereotypes of elderly people. And the lemurs…well, if the meteor had wiped ALL of them out instead of sparing the one family, I wouldn’t have complained too much.
Going back to the animation itself for a minute, I actually think that this movie shot itself in the foot somewhat with the mix of live action and CG animation. Hand-drawn animation is a technology that, computer-aided advances notwithstanding, hasn’t fundamentally changed in over over a century. CG, on the other hand, was less than ten years old when they started work on Dinosaur, and was still in its infancy compared to today’s effects. The animation in this movie might have earned great reviews from the critics in 2000, but in 2021 it has aged extremely poorly. This is accentuated by the juxtaposition with the live-action backgrounds, as there’s even more data available for the eye to register that the dinosaurs just look off.
So can you tell that I didn’t like this movie very much? If Fantasia 2000 was a sign that the Renaissance was out of steam, Dinosaur just about puts the nail in the coffin. There will be a couple of movies that I like from the 2000s period, but we’re about to enter a fairly dark time for Disney.
Animation: C+ (I’m not going to completely write the movie off, because I can acknowledge that it looked better when it came out than it does today. I still think that brown-on-brown makes for a terrible viewing experience, though)
Main Characters: C (Aladar is friendly, but friendliness is not a personality in and of itself)
Supporting Characters: D+ (Can I trade these lemurs for the ones from the Madagascar franchise?)
Villains: D+ (Kron is just kind of an ass, but without any backstory or other motivation for it. The Carnotaurs are mildly intimidating, at least, and bonus points for using a less-common dinosaur species. But Sharptooth could kick their asses and they know it)
Music: C+ (It’s competent, I guess, but not really memorable in any way)