Posted January 12, 2011 by editor in Retrospectives

Disney: Dinosaur

It’s strange to think of Disney using CGI outside of their beautiful union with Pixar, but Dinosaur relies completely upon it to create a world of realistic-looking dinosaurs in their natural environment.

By 2000, the year this film was released, I’d stopped buying every Disney video that came out (not least because VHS was already becoming obsolete by then) and I was 14 which meant it was social suicide to see a Disney movie at the cinema (or to admit it, at least!). So, I missed out on Dinosaur initially. Having seen it now, I’m not sure I’d define it as “missing out”.

It’s a sweet story, albeit it with violent beginnings; baby dinosaur Aladar is adopted into a family of lemurs after a carnivorous dinosaur attacks his mother’s nest. There’s something biblical in Aladar’s journey along the river, harking back to the story of Moses and in search of the dinosaur’s paradise “The Nesting Ground” which is supposedly unaffected by the meteor that’s devastated the land. They form what is, essentially, a band of freaks – lemurs, wizened old dinosaurs Baylene and Eema (where did these names come from? They’re not the memorable names non-extinct Disney characters are granted!) and an injured Bruton.

The odds are stacked against our protagonists; they struggle to find water, and to escape the Carnotaurs that are on their tails, they get lost and hit dead ends, and poor Bruton eventually loses his life in an act of ultimate sacrifice – which may be lost on children, as he gives up his life in an emotional bid to help his friends on their quest. Despite this, it’s a happy ending for the dinosaurs – they reach their paradise, Aladar gets the girl and the lemurs rejoin the lemur world. We all know, though, that in the real world the dinosaurs all  eventually perished, so it seems a bit misleading when so much work has gone into accuracy to have a “happily ever after”. But hey, this is Disney, and these are talking dinosaurs.

A young Hayden Panettiere voices Aladar’s stepsister, earning Disney a few cool points, and the visuals really are stunning. There’s danger, death and a celebration of nurturing instincts to give this film appeal and sneak in a bit of education. However, the attention paid to creating convincing-looking dinosaurs and incorporation of science (the meteor, digging for water, the food chain) is somewhat counteracted by the fact these dinosaurs talk and how they treat another species as equals (the lemurs, not other types of dinosaurs – Url is kept by Eema like a pet and Carnotaurs are the enemy). While the dialogue is witty and helps explain the story – I doubt children would genuinely enjoy a film lacking conversations – it distracts from the glorious backgrounds and detailed textures. And the effort put into appearances means, while looking and moving like the real deal (well, how experts speculate they looked!), they lack the “cute” factor we expect from Disney. Dinosaur is proof that Disney needs Pixar to step beyond the two dimensions they are so accomplished at telling stories with. 

Lauren Felton