2000, PG, 82 min. Directed by Eric Leighton, Ralph Zondag. Voices by D.B. Sweeney, Alfre Woodard, Ossie Davis, Julianna Margulies, Della Reese, Max Casella, Hayden Panettiere, Samuel E. Wright, Peter Siragusa. Starring Joan Plowright.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., May 19, 2000

Dinosaur purists were up in arms some months back when they suddenly realized that Disney's highly anticipated dino-epic would, indeed, give voice to the prehistoric characters instead of allowing the more realistic grunts and rumbles of the Spielberg camp. While the idea of non-anthropomorphized cinematic thunder lizards is a tantalizing one, that day has yet to arrive, and until then, fans will have to make do with the odd sight of a Brachiosaur with lips and Joan Plowright's voice. It's really not as bad as it sounds, though -- Dinosaur is a breakaway film when it come to the tremendous leaps made in computer graphic animation since James Cameron's “water tentacle” in The Abyss. Disney's creature and effects shops put in a combined total of 3.2 million processing hours in the creation of the film, and that shows in the photorealistic way the creatures move, the way their musculature jiggles beneath their pebbled skins, and in the seamless merging of live-action backgrounds with the computer-generated fauna. Technical accomplishments aside, Dinosaur's storyline is pure, dusty Disney. There's little new in this tale of Aladar (Sweeney), an orphaned Iguanadon raised by a family of lemurs. When their island home is ravaged by a series of meteor strikes, Aladar and his adopted brood -- Davis' Yar, Woodard's Plio, Casella's Zini, and Panettiere's Suri -- strike out on their own and eventually find themselves caught up in a massive dinosaur caravan headed by the inflexible Iguanadon Kron (Wright). Kron and his group are fleeing not only the devastation of the meteors but also a pair of ravenous Carnotaurs, fierce, horned relatives of the more glamorous Tyrannosaurus Rex. The group's ultimate goal -- the fabled safety of the “nesting ground,” lies somewhere ahead, behind sheer rock cliffs and barren, dusty watering holes. Despite the massive scale of the production, Disney's film barely earns its PG rating -- younger viewers may find the savage Carnotaurs somewhat frightening, but the film glosses over the bloody battles and ripping claws that might have earned this a PG-13. Indeed, there's less violence here than in several of Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion dinosaur fantasies, though as is so often the case with Disney, issues of death and separation are frequently raised. There's something of Moses and the Israelites to this tale of desert-wandering dinos, too, though I doubt that was an angle writers John Harrison and Robert Nelson Jacobs were striving for (then again, after the success of The Prince of Egypt, you never know). It's a visually stunning film, yet another watershed moment in Hollywood's burgeoning CGI history. The fact that the relatively simplistic storyline pales in comparison to the effects work is, I suppose, hardly worth mentioning. For every kid everywhere, and for every adult still a kid at heart, the dinosaurs are the thing, and here, finally, Disney does justice to our dreams.

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Dinosaur, Eric Leighton, Ralph Zondag, Joan Plowright

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