This one is just so weird. First of all none of it even really seems like "a Disney movie." Which is why I wasn't surprised to see no recognizable names in the credits (save a few of the voice actors). It's not even like a third-party-created-but-released-by-Disney movie. It's not even like watching leading competing animation studio's work (I'll get to Atlantis and Treasure Planet later). It's like this foreign-made film that has nothing to do with Disney and isn't even trying to be like Disney. So the very experience of watching it, expecting "a Disney movie," while it seems to constantly contradict that, is a weird one. It's not even just the animation quality, or even the story too, but ... everything about it.
But let me start with the animation. I believe back near the beginning of the year I commented about the use of hand-drawn animation over live action footage from Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros. In those cases it seemed like a gimmick, but at least it was a fairly fun gimmick, and it paved the way for better use of the technique. In "Dinosaur," we get computer-generated animation over live non-action footage, which comes across less as a gimmick even and more as just a way to save time and money on having to render all of the scenery. And it's hard to say it was even particularly novel at the time, since the audiences of the year 2000 would have already seen that sort of thing - computer dinosaurs transposed over actual footage - seven years earlier in "Jurassic Park." And the computer animation in "Dinosaur" isn't even a whole lot better. I know it's easy to criticize graphics many years later after huge advances have been made, but even Toy Story 2, released in '99, holds up pretty well today. I realize in Toy Story's case it helps that most of the characters and environments were artificial in nature and of course simulated more easily, but that is the point I'm going for here. Since animation technology at the time apparently wasn't sufficient enough to make believable animals in believable organic environments, Dinosaur suffers with off-putting models that I don't want to spend the entire length of a feature seeing.
Maybe it wouldn't so bad if the story itself was interesting in some way at all. But it's pretty darn cliché-packed, what with the young idealistic kid having trouble exposing his novel and ground-breaking ideas to the thoughtless masses, and the girl he meets who he should get with on the grounds that it's the first girl he meets despite her having to warm up to him, and the HORRIBLY UNFUNNY sidekick AGH YOU ARE SO UNFUNNY IT'S PAINFUL. To summarize the plot, various events happen. It's another weird thing about this movie, and I'm not even sure how much of it is due to the weird visuals. But I never really feel like I'm "in" the movie. And I can get "into" even a bad movie, like The Black Cauldron. But for this one it was more like I was just ... seeing things happen. I get what's going on not because I'm feeling the situation through the eyes of the characters but because I see the characters doing things and I understand what feelings I'm supposed to have for them. Like, there's this bad guy named Kron. Here's where I get lost in moral grey areas. Still feel like reading? I won't blame you if you feel like skipping at any point. Okay. So. One of the things that separate humans from animals is a separate set of morals. It's a society thing. For us helping the less fortunate and differently-abled is just plain the right thing to do, because we're at the point where we don't need to worry about protecting our species and letting only the fittest survive and all that. It just doesn't apply to us. So we might witness a small rodent-sized pet mother who, say, eats its own young, and that's horrible, but only really because we're applying it to our social structure. We don't even want to think of the possibility of a human parent doing anything like that, because obviously that would be horrible to us. It would be morally reprehensible because he or she should know better. But when a wild animal in a natural environment sacrifices the weak for the good of the survival of its own kind in the long run...well, that instinct is there for a reason, isn't it?
The reason I bring this all up is, the lesson we're supposed to learn in Dinosaur is a bit hinky to me. Aladar believes it's wrong to leave the slower members of the herd behind, and Kron is painted as being evil for believing only the strong should survive. If Aladar and Kron were people, I would have no problem with this. But they're dinosaurs! In the wild! Walking on four legs and foraging for food! And their very existence was even endangered at the time! It's one thing when it's anthropomorphic animals in a human-style setting (like Robin Hood) but when they're very animal-like animals in an animal setting, applying human morals seems as out of place as...well, any historical inaccuracies you may have noticed.
Talking point: Is Kron evil, or is he just an animal doing what an animal would be expected to do? If your housecat attacks a field mouse that finds its way into the house, does that mean your cat is evil?
Favorite Character: Kron, but only for the single reason that the same voice actor was also Sebastian the Crab, and that fact is so far the most and only amusing thing about this movie.
Least necessary character: "The love monkey." Get out of here with your exasperatingly unfunny trailer comments that don't fit the tone of everything else in the movie.
Overall: While there was certainly a lot of work put into the visuals of Dinosaur (strangely the "making of" features make it look better than it does when I actually watch the movie), they just don't play well enough to save the lackluster story and its unlikeable characters.
So it's come to this: I am now looking forward to watching a movie starring David Spade.
The Love monkey? Oh kill me now. That meteor can't come fast enough.
Dinosaur seems like the red-headed step-child masquerading as a genuine Disney movie. There are so many aspects to it that cause it to stand apart from the entirety of Disney's other works and let's not consider it a compliment.
Aladar is an iguanadon who was lost as an egg and was raised by a family of slightly wonky-moving lemurs. This would be interesting and possibly enhance his character somewhat if we were allowed to see some of his challenges growing up and witness any of his interactions with his family so that the cast would have some character to it. Unfortunately while taking advantage of some technology that is as jarring as it is beautiful (blending live-action footage with CGI characters), we skip from baby is found straight to mating day in the clan. This movie could have taken a cue from Tarzan and been about Aladar's isolation growing up with no one else like him. During the first few scenes, it seems like it might be going that way.
Suddenly a meteor! The (now abbreviated) family of lemurs and Aladar escape explosive destruction and run into a large mixed species herd who are headed towards a breeding grounds which escaped the fateful cosmic catastrophe. Once again we have an idea introduced that attempts to be the theme of the movie: Successfully travel from point A to point B. This alone could also be a successful concept. However, Aladar as an outsider doesn't understand the rules of the pack and as a result meets some eccentric characters near the back of the line who are less abled do to age and intelligence issues than the rest. The theme is now Help Others and Work Together.
Aladar feels for these poor misfits and places himself among them and the sexy female Iguanadon is apparently impressed by this, so the theme has changed once again: Kindness is a virtue most especially to the less fortunate. It's a good thing the horrible jokes from the unlikeable lemur don't cause permanent damage. This one holds on for a while until they all get separated and end up in a cave cowering from big meat-eaters and as Aladar almost throws in the towel and the big elderly Dino gives a lecture, the theme suddenly shifts to Never Give Up.
Or... maybe it's Show Personal Responsibility in Your Community because Aladar runs off to lead the herd to his new found path and they all Work Together to fight off the meat-eater and Family is Who You Love and Who Loves You because Aladar has babies and the lemurs are there to help him.
OHHHHH Forget it!
This movie has no focus. The use of live animation is more distracting than enhancing. The characters are either bland or unbearable. The character animation and design hovers in this weird animal uncanny valley. The story is unoriginal, poorly told, and not terribly interesting to begin with. Have I found a movie I disliked more than Black Cauldron? Yes. I think I have.
Favorite character: The horned old lady. She may have been a bland character with cliche lines, but Della Reese acted the hell out of them!
Least necessary character: ALL of the freaking LEMURS, but that incredibly unfunny ugly one with no girlfriend is the most putrid.
Overall: Snoozefest, Rageparty... take your pick.
On the upside, I bet that "Dinosaur!" the ride in Walt Disney World might not have come to fruition without this movie. I love the ride and I believe that a lot of the success of this ride is based on the fact that the imagineers made no attempt whatsoever to adhere to the plot.