The 2000 Disney animated feature, Dinosaur, is a visual masterpiece. It tells the story of Aladar, an iguanadon raised by lemur-like mammals after his family is attacked and destroyed by a carnotaurus, a roving meat-eating dinosaur. The island they live on is eventually destroyed by a meteor strike, and Aladar and most of his immediate adoptive family survive by swimming to the mainland.
The rest of the story is spent searching for the mythical “Nesting Grounds”, a dinosaur paradise where there are no meat eaters and the paths are paved with tasty morsels…wait…wrong movie. The storyline is very similar to the plot of the even-more-obviously-for-kids The Land Before Time, a 1988 Don Bluth animated film. Dinosaur is aimed at a slightly older audience than that film, though.
The use of CGI dinosaurs combined with (in most cases) live action scenery shots, was a visually-stunning choice, and the blending is almost seamless. From lush backgrounds filmed in South American jungles to desert scenes typical of the American Southwest, over $100 million was spent on the settings and visual effects, and the quality shows through. The master animators at Disney definitely served up a tasty helping of awesome here.
I’ve mentioned in other reviews that the best soundtrack music is memorable, but also disappears into the background of the film so you often don’t even notice it’s there, pushing and pulling on your emotions. The music by James Newton Howard was simply amazing. Howard beautifully captured the stunning and broad vistas presented in the film, as well as the excitement, terror, and tender moments shared by the various characters throughout.
Coming back to the story, Dinosaur is very weak in this department. While the story is entertaining enough for an occasional viewing (or more, if you are younger and don’t care so much about interesting plots), it is generally poorly fleshed-out and rarely goes beyond being a skeleton of a tale. None of the characters are especially memorable.
There has been some discussion over whether it was a wise choice for Disney to include dialog in the film, rather than simply having a narrator or no verbal cues at all. I really didn’t mind the characters speaking, and it didn’t make the movie any worse for me. In fact, I think it was a good choice on the part of Disney’s producers and the directors as it strengthened the rather weak storyline.
Overall, I was reasonably impressed with Dinosaur, despite the weak story and cookie-cutter characters. While not my favorite Disney animated feature, it is still worthy of the Disney name and is worth watching at least once. It was released 15 years ago, today.
Release Date: May 19, 2000 (USA)
MPAA Rating: PG
Violence: 2 (dinosaur attacks and fighting)