Aladar: D.B. Sweeney
Yar: Ossie Davis
Neera: Julianna Margulies
Baylene: Joan Plowright
Eema: Della Reese
Kron: Samuel E. Wright
Plio: Alfre Woodard
Zini: Max Casella
Directed: Eric Leighton and Ralph Zondag
Screenplay: Walon Green
Written: Thom Enriquez, John Harrison, Robert Nelson Jacobs, Ralph Zontag, et al.
Produced: Pam Marsden, Baker Bloodworth
Music: James Newton Howard
Key Assistant Animator: Yancy Calzada (a guy who e-mailed me about these pages)
Summary: Dinosaurs frolick all bucolic until a predator attacks (I thought it was a T-Rex, but Howard and his 4-year-old daughter tell me it’s a Carnotaurus). One egg survives uncrunched but an oviraptor runs awaywith it, it falls into a river, is eaten and spit out, it bobs,a pterodon brings it to its young, but it falls finally into an island forest where a family of lemurs witness the hatching and consider adopting what the patriarch calls a “cold-blooded monster.” He thinks it’ll be vicious; gently-snarkier-than-thoumother lemur thinks it’s a “baby.” Although the father says “things like that eat things like us as snacks,” when he holds it at arms’ length and the thing adorably defecates, he is won over.
Cut to a terrifying chase where a three-ton dinosaur is chasing young lemurs, finally eating one. Actually though, this is Aladar, now an adolescent Iguanodon, playing with his adoptive siblings — he didn’t swallow.
We ritualistically enter into some extreme gender-separation for love-coaching by the elder lemurs. Aladar trots the males, a “buffet table of love,” over to the prom-tree where crazed lemurs fling themselves onto various vinesand pair up like panicked freshman the first week and a half of fall semester. One obnoxious male from the main family remains unmated. Poor whoever.
A meteor shower in the distance at first isdisturbing and then approaches. Flaming chaos erupts sending Aladarand his lemur family running off the island into the sea. Afterwardsthe island is charred and we all trek to new land where velociraptorsattack. So we join a dinosaur convoy from desert land consistingof various species, but driven mercilessly by the harsh Kron.Aladar sympathizes with a few of the older dinosaurs in the back– especially Baylene (a brachiosaur) and Eema (who I read was a tricerotops, but the 3-year-old son of Dr. Michael Ramer correctly identifies as a Styracasaurus).Kron’s sister Neera considers Aladar a “jerkasaurus”and the formerly unpaired lemur on his back, as self-appointed”love monkey,” takes a leering interest in the inevitablematch.
The pace is strainful in the hideous sun, andpredators constantly loom. When a promised lake proves dried,Aladar discovers that by digging a bit and pressing, one can createpuddles. After a greedy stampede, the dinosaurs rest. Aladar continueshelping frightened young Iguanodons, impressing Neera, who welater see helping stragglers now.
With Carnotaurs as a threat even “this farnorth,” Kron insists they press on to the breeding grounds.The old ones can’t keep up, come across one of Kron’s crabby scoutswounded, hide in a cave when it rains. The wounded one, formerlyattacked, assumes he’ll die and doesn’t comprehendthis new welfare system, but allows himself to be helped intothe cave by Aladar where a lemur brings some healing plants. Whenthe predators attack, the scout allows the others to escape deeper intothe cave and sacrifices himself to a created cave-in.
Our group hits a dead-end deep inside the cave.A beam of light is discovered, but in Aladar’s attempt to bustthrough, he brings down a wall of rock. Baylene inspires him andthe others to ram at the wall together, which brings them to thefertile valley, the nesting grounds. Eema finds that the formerentrance is blocked, so Aladar goes back through the cave to findthe misguided herd.
Kron is outraged at this hierarchical broachand fights Aladar, but Neera intervenes and the herd prepares tofollow Aladar. A Carnotaur approaches, but Aladar insists that ifthey scatter they’ll be picked off. They all bellow at the predator,who is baffled and eventually goes after Kron, who has been tryingto climb the rock pile at the old entrance to the breeding grounds.Aladar and Neera help and Aladar knocks the attacker into a crevice,but they are too late to save Kron. After some solemn and bird-likeintertwining of draping necks, we’re all back at the nesting grounds,looking at eggs, hatchlings, and adorable defecations. Also thatlemur finds a batch of females.
A hopeful last voice-over suggests that “ourjourney’s not over … in some small way our time will be remembered.”
Commentary: Believe me, no one is more surprised than I am at the fact that I loved this film. I went in with grim expectations of Land Before Time smarm, and maybe that’s why I wasn’t shrieking at the modest plot here, which does nevertheless raise some questions:
- dinosaurs are not salmons — so why is there a so-called “nesting ground” which, paradoxically, seems to be known only to the older dinosaurs as a distant memory? And why is this place far beyond the site where there used to be an oasis anyway? And why do dinosaurs want to come in out of the rain, especially considering this environmental dehydration?
- why can some dinosaurs speak and others, particularly crafty predators, can’t?
- why does any of this breeding matter? The sense that they’re all goners is fairly pervasive and Aladar and Neera’s final hatching does not produce a feathery mutant.
In any case the film combines computer animation with digitally enhanced live-action backgrounds, and this works fabulously. Here too one is rightfully suspicious. A trailer shown before Dinosaur for an upcoming outer space cartoon film had glorious special effects and the crappiest looking characters since Speed Racer. In Dinosaur too, most effective are the chase scenes, firy explosive meteor showers, cave-ins, and violence of that sort. But even calmer scenes are visually effective and breathtaking here. Textures, colors, shadowing, and all visuals are terrific. Even the opening scene, a close-up of dinosaur skin, was visually magnificent.