A scene from 'Dinosaur'
Courtesy Photo
** stars 82 minutes | Rated: PG
Opened: Friday, May 19, 2000
Directed by Ralph Zondag & Eric Leighton

Voices of D.B. Sweeney, Alfre Woodard, Ossie Davis, Max Casella, Hayden Panettiere, Samuel E. Wright, Peter Siragusa, Julianna Margulies, Joan Plowright & Della Reese


A good rental, especially for the kids. But the amazing F/X - the only real point of interest in this otherwise common Disney "cartoon" feature - will lose a lot of punch on the small screen.

   VIDEO RELEASE: 1.30.2001


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Beyond astounding visuals, 'Dinosaur' is the same tired story Disney tells every summer

By Rob Blackwelder

About once a year I see a movie that I'm just sure everyone is going to like except for me -- no matter how hard I try.

This year it seems this dubious honor may be bestowed upon "Dinosaur," Disney's computer-animated, prehistoric summer adventure that is completely dependent on the incredibly rendered, precise and minutely detailed special effects that populate every frame of the picture.

What's the matter with "Dinosaur" you ask? Nothing I can point to with any exactitude, it's just that if you look past the seamlessly realistic CGI, there's nothing at all memorable about the movie.

Adhering to the fatigued Disney animation formula of an orphan -- in this case an Iguanodon dino named Aladar (voice of D.B. Sweeney) -- finding his way in the world with the help of simian sidekicks -- in this case a family of goofball Lemurs -- "Dinosaur" accompanies this unusual brood on a challenging cross-continent trek after they hook up with a migrating mixed herd of other dinos returning to their nesting grounds.

The journey begins when the tropical island home of Aladar and his Lemur clan is destroyed by a giant meteor (no, not that meteor -- not yet) in a cataclysmic sequence so spectacular and frightening (they're not kidding around with that PG rating) that it rivals the collision sequences in "Deep Impact" and "Armageddon."

Having swum to the mainland, they tag along on a migration being lead by the antagonistic Kron (Samuel E. Wright), a dominant, callous, bellicose Iguanodon leader who drives the herd hard and without consideration for the slow, old and infirm -- who risk being picked off by predator Raptors and Carnotaurs (the T. Rex of the Cretaceous).

The reticent and righteous young Aladar naturally befriends these stragglers -- mainly a kindly old lady Brachiosaur (the colossal quadrupeds with the long, long necks) voiced by Joan Plowright and a gruff but good-natured Styrachosaur (the rhino-like dino with a crown of horns) voiced by Della Reese. In the course of the migration, he learns to assert himself, stand up to Kron, and saves the herd from meeting a carnivorous end by promoting cooperation -- which endears him tenderly to Kron's sister (voiced by Julianna Margulies).

It's the same tired old messages Disney recycles every summer, but wrapped up handsome in a very expensive gift box.

Laying computer-animated characters over breathtaking live-action backgrounds shot pristine natural locales, "Dinosaur" is astounding to look at. The layers upon layers of effects could not be more impressive. Not only are the animals so realistic you'll forget you're seeing animation after only a few minutes, but their faces are fantastically expressive thanks to a little creative license in the shapes and functions of dinosaur eyes and mouths.

But except for this visual payoff from the thousands of hours spent in dark computer rooms by hundreds of animators creating these amazing creatures, there's just not much to "Dinosaur."

What I remember most about the film is not the intrepid adventure, the detailed and life-like characters parented by PCs or their wonderous integration into gorgeous live-action landscapes. It certainly isn't the flat and flawed story of survival -- the unlikely migration was the only way the filmmakers could think of to move the narration forward. (In a more sensical script the herd would have been looking for a new home after the first act fireball).

Instead what I remember most is that the crashing cymbals and insistent brass of the Disney Event Movie score seemed more intrusive in this picture than ever before. The orchestra is so overpoweringly obnoxious that it actually distracts attention away from the movie's magnificently-rendered dino stars.

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