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“All that remained of his herd were his mother, grandmother and his grandfather. He knew them by sight, by sound and by their love.”
The Land Before Time, 1988
“That, children, is what’s known as a jerkasaurous.”
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the classic Disney movies are a lot like hardcore porn, and I’m not just saying that because putting the words “dinosaur” and “porn” in a blog post is my best chance of scamming a few page views before this “dino-erotica” news fad runs its course.
What I mean is, it’s hard to exactly define what makes a Disney classic, but you know it when you see it. Like porn. Even dinosaur porn. Read my blog, perverts. Take for example, Sleeping Beauty and The Avengers. They’re both technically Disney movies in that they were released by Walt Disney studios, but one is considered part of the canon classics and the other isn’t. Why is that? It’s not because Sleeping Beauty is wholly animated, because there are plenty of movies in the canon that are partially or even mostly live action (Saludos Amigos for example.) It’s really more just a question of looking at a movie and saying “Yes…this fits.” Today’s movie did not clear that barrier when it was first released. Disney did not consider Dinosaur part of the canon classics, which means that by rights I should have skipped over it and should be pissing my pants right now watching the side-splitting awesomeness of The Emperor’s New Groove. But no, Dinosaur has since been retroactively shoe-horned into the canon and it’s all thanks to one person.
Sigh. Look, Rapunzel? I’m glad you now get to call yourself the fiftieth canon Disney movie. Good on you. You earned it, what with being the beloved fairytale princess character who rescued the flagging fortunes of the Disney studio.
I just have one question, Rapunzel. Did you have to ruin my life to do it?
See, I hate this movie. Like a lot. Like, “congratulations Black Cauldron, you no longer live at the bottom” hate it.
Dinosaur was in the works for a long time, originally pitched to Disney as a stop-motion film by none other than Paul Verhoeven. Because, when I think of creators and studios who were made for each other…I do not think of Paul Verhoeven and Disney. At all. Like, not even a little. Verhoeven’s original pitch was for a silent, almost nature documentary film which would be extremely violent and end with the extinction of the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous. And yeah, Paul? Did you just get high and walk into the wrong studio? Disney instead decided to sit on the idea until computer effects technology had advanced enough to create realistic animated dinosaurs and that is your problem right there. People who like this movie always mention the visuals. The whole advertising campaign was just showing the first few wordless minutes of the movie to showcase the animation. The damn tagline is “Like nothing you’ve ever seen”. This was a movie made to showcase special effects technology, not because anyone involved had a story to tell. Which is why everything outside the animation is rote, tacked-on, hacky and mediocre. And even the animation isn’t that great. I mean, I suppose it’s impressive considering it was Disney’s first fully computer animated feature.
NIT, SHUT UP I AM IN NO MOOD FOR PEDANTRY!
Okay, I always try to be positive so let me tell you the two things I like about this movie:
1) I like that they avoid the usual T-Rex/Triceratops/Stegosaurus/Diplodocus clichés and actually use some more obscure dinosaur species.
2) There is the kernel of an interesting debate here about a society’s obligation to look after its most vulnerable members versus the greater good of the strongest and fittest. Kind of…the Obamacare debate with dinosaurs.
That’s it. Nothing left but to unhinge my jaw like a python and let the bile gush forward.
The movie begins with our main character Aladar, an Iguanodon, in ovo while the narrator solemnly intones: “Some things start out big. And some things start out small…”
“…but sometimes the smallest thing can make the biggest changes.” she says, beginning the movie about a creature that’s 33 foot long and weighs three to four tonnes. So, we begin as we mean to go on, with meaningless bullshit.
So the egg is being watched by Aladar’s mother who OH JESUS…
People really think this looks good? Really? You know what, the Hydra from Hercules holds up better than this. I’m serious. Sure, the CGI is even more dated but the Hydra at least had a really cool character design. This? Look at that. It looks like a mildly constipated rock. Now you can say, “Oh Mouse, they’re going for a more realistic looking design. It’s not supposed to be cartoony” but as you’ll soon see, they made a cartoon. Verhoeven’s vision of a movie looking realistically at Dinosaurs as animals has long since fallen by the wayside. These are supposed to be characters. And they look dull as shit.
Alright, so anyway Aladar’s mother is just one of dozens of dinosaurs nesting beside a lake. She chases off a baby Parasaurolophus who’s curious about her eggs and he runs into the forest and notices that music has suddenly gotten ominous.
So this ugly fellah is a Carnotaurus, and as I said earlier, props for using more obscure species instead of just the T-Rex. I always liked the Carnotaurus (it’s got freakin’s Devil horns! How metal can you get?!). Of course the Carnotaurus was only a third of the size it’s portrayed as being here, meaning this is basically a T-Rex with horns but…am I really going to complain that this movie has a T-Rex with horns? IT’S A MUTHAFUCKIN’ T-REX!
Yeah, you knew it was coming.
So the Carno chases the dinosaurs, and Aladar’s mother has to abandon the nest. Then Aladar’s egg gets stolen by an Oviraptor and then the egg goes on a long and peril filled journey wait just a damn minute here!
Well, well, well. This is ironic. See, I made the very first “You whores” joke all the way back in the Fantasia review. Back then, I was calling out Don Bluth for helping himself to rather generous portions of inspiration for his 1988 classic The Land Before Time from the Rite of Spring sequence in Fantasia. And now we have Disney borrowing from Land Before Time.
So anyway, the egg gets stolen by an Oviraptor and then stolen by another Oviraptor who drops it in the river where it almost gets eaten by a shark and then washes up on the shore upon which point it hitches a lift from a kind trucker who takes it as far as the airport where it then charters a flight to Gdansk and then falls into another river where it almost gets swept over a waterfall (of course) before getting snatched by a Pteranodon in mid-flight who then proceeds to take the egg on a grand tour of every epic landscape helicopter shot the production could get its hands on, all while James Newton Howard’s score tries it’s damndest to sound epic. Yeah, the music is another reason this movie just doesn’t feel apiece with the rest of the canon. Interestingly, Howard is not credited as “composer” on IMDb, but as “score producer”. Yeah, it sounds like it was “produced” alright. Anyway, this goes on for several minutes of screentime until the Pteranodon finally reaches its nest where some chicks are waiting to be fed. But the mother gets attacked by some seagulls who force it to drop the egg. And…honestly? That Pteranodon is the first character in this thing I actually feel any kind of emotional connection with. I mean, Jesus, she flew like a hundred miles to feed her starving chicks that egg and then to have that snatched away from her at the last minute by bastard gulls? That is appalling.
The egg finally gets discovered by a family of lemurs who are going to give some paleontologist a heart attack when they show up around twenty million years too early in the fossil record. One of the lemurs, Plio (Alfre Woodard), goes to investigate the egg while her father Yar (Ossie Davis) warns her to leave it alone and Jesus these are some ugly fucking lemurs.
Plio opens the egg, causing the undeveloped hatchling to die of exposure to the elements…
Just checking you were paying attention. No, of course Aladar is fine but damned if I know how Plio knew he would be. Yar tells her that Aladar is dangerous and that once he grows up he’ll eat them. But Plio says “What if he’s on our side?” and Yar says “That’s the stupidest thing I ever…Hey, wait a minute! What if he’s on our side!” Wait, no. Wrong movie.
Yar says they should get rid of it and Plio simply hands him the baby dinosaur and tells him to do it. And wow, Plio really does not give a fuck what happens to this baby. Now, you could argue that she knows Yar would never go through with it but he’s still dangling the baby over the forest floor like Michael Freakin’ Jackson. She’s being awful cavalier here is all I’m saying. Oh, and then we get the moment when I finally realised all hope was lost. Yar holds the baby up but can’t bring himself to drop it. He looks into the baby’s little innocent face and his heart melts.
So quick, what is the most juvenile, hacky and unfunny thing that could happen right now?
Yeah, we get the first piss joke in the Disney canon. Congratulations gentlemen, another milestone in the history of animation.
Plio takes the baby back and says she’ll raise him herself.
Any other volunteers? Anyone? Pretty much anyone would be better, really.
So we fast forward a few years and Aladar is now fully grown and around the size and weight of an articulated truck. Now, many bad movies are hobbled by the fact that they have an unlikeable lead. Dinosaur is not one of those movies. The problem is not that Aladar isn’t likeable.
The problem is that that’s all he is. He’s just a nice, pleasant helpful guy who wants everyone to get along. He’s just a nice blank.
Plio tells Aladar to go get his best buddy Zini, because mating season is about to begin.
Alright, what I am about to say about Zini, I do not say lightly. I have very carefully weighed the ramifications of making this statement. Don’t think I haven’t. But I have to say what I know in my heart to be true.
Zini is worse than Gurgi.
I know what you’re thinking. How is that even possible? It’s like finding something colder than absolute zero. But yet here we are. Zini sucks worse than Gurgi, who was previously considered to be absolute suck.
Shut the fuck up hairball before I seal your mouth with a glue gun.
Gurgi was awful, truly, truly awful. But he did at least have the advantage of decent character design and some actually pretty nice animation. Zini is just fail on every conceivable. He looks awful, he sounds awful and he almost certainly smells bad. You know that if you touched him, bits of his scraggy blonde fur would stick to your hand just to escape being on him. When we first meet him he’s practicing pick up lines and settles on “Girls? I’m known as the professor of love. And school’s in session”.
There’s so much wrong with that line it’d actually be quicker just to list what’s not wrong with it. Which, as far as I can tell…it doesn’t contain any major grammatical errors? That’s something, right?
Aladar picks up Zini and takes him to the tree where the lemurs basically have their speed-dating. By the end of it, all the lemurs have paired up except for Zini. Which is as it should be.
Yar notes sadly that the clan still has one bachelor, but Plio says “No. We have two.” Plio goes to Aladar and says she wishes there was someone on the island for him. Yeah, I don’t care if Aladar is a three ton lizard, he’s still got a better chance of getting some than Zini.
The clan watches as a meteor shower streaks across the sky in one of the few effective scenes in the movie, and then watch in awe as a single massive asteroid strikes the ocean and erupts into a mushroom cloud.
Since this movie doesn’t seem to take place in the late Cretaceous and the dinosaurs survive in the end (spoilers), this probably isn’t supposed to be the impact that wiped out the dinosaurs, just an earlier, less destructive impact. And actually, scientists are becoming less and less comfortable with saying that the dinosaurs went extinct since only some of the group died out, with the rest evolving into traitorous, communist birds.
The shockwave completely destroys the lemur’s island, but fortunately it works on Independence Day rules, meaning that Aladar can outrun it and also that Boomer will live. Aladar finds Plio, Yar and Plio’s daughter Suri floating on some driftwood in the ocean. He also finds Zini, but you can’t have everything, can you?
Aladar and the four lemurs reach the mainland and before long they’re getting stalked by velociraptors. The raptors break off pursuit though when Aladar runs into a massive herd of dinosaur lead by Kron, our villain. He also meets Neera, the perfunctory love interest voiced by Julianna Margulies who’s also Kron’s sister.
We also meet Kron’s head lackey, Bruton, Baylene the elderly Brachiosaurus, Eema the elderly Styrachosaurous, Eeema’s pet Ankylosaurus Url AND ARE YOU PERHAPS STARTING TO SEE A PROBLEM HERE?
Keep in mind, we already have Aladar and four lemurs. Four is a lot of supporting characters. It’s around this time that the movie starts to groan under the weight of character bloat and it’s a classic symptom of a script that needs to go through some more rewrites. When there’s too many characters presented to us, it’s hard to care about any of them. When one of them is Zini, it becomes impossible.
Kron orders the herd to rest and Aladar talks to Eema and Baylene. Url (voiced by Frank Welker, who, I think it’s fair to say, has voiced quite a few characters) instantly takes to Aladar, which impresses Eema. Weirdly, although all the other dinosaurs can talk, Url acts like a dog. I dunno, maybe it’s just like how Goofy can talk but Pluto can’t.
Eema explains that the herd is heading for
The Great Valley The Nesting Grounds, where there should still be water and plant life. This portion of the movie, with the herd trying to reach The Great Valley The Nesting Grounds takes up most of the running time and it’s another big problem with the movie (throw it on the pile). Look at this:
I hope you like watching grey and brown objects lumbering slowly across a grey and brown landscape because that’s pretty much the next forty minutes or so. It’s just so drab, lifeless and dull to look at. And I know what you’re thinking, “It’s after the apocalypse, of course everything is dull and barren.” Well, Land Before Time had the exact same setting and premise and it had some of the most eerily beautiful backgrounds of any animated film I’ve seen.
Well anyway, Kron is driving the herd so hard that it’s clear that before long Eema and Baylene will be left behind, so Aladar stays at the back of the herd to help them along. Aladar sees Neera but is too shy to talk to her and Zini says “You just need a little help from the love monkey”.
So Zini starts making catcalls at Neera behind Aladar’s back like Cyrano de Bergerac if he drank paint thinner. Neera, thinking that Aladar’s being a jackass, turns to two baby Iguanodons that she’s adopted (more characters? Why not! This movie was starting to feel underpopulated!) and says “That, children, is what’s known as a jerkasaurous.”
Kron tells the rest of the herd that they’re going to have to cross a desert and that there will be no water until they reach the other side. What follows is basically the Bataan death march with dinosaurs, with weaker members of the herd being picked off by velociraptors. We also see two Carnos who have picked up the trail of the herd. The dinosaurs finally reach the lake and are overjoyed that they’re finally going to get a drink but then…wouldn’t you know it?
Yep, the lake has dried up and is now as brown as everything else in this movie. Kron orders the herd to move out but Neera says that if they go on without water they’ll lose half the herd. Kron replies that that means they’ll save the other half.
You know what? I may not like Kron, but in this instance he’s absolutely right. I mean, what do they want him to do? If there’s no water he can’t change that, and really their only hope is to get to
The Great Valley The Nesting Grounds as quickly as possible.
Meanwhile, Eema has essentially decided “fuck this noise” and lain down on the dry lake bed to die. Baylene tries to get her to get up, but instead her weight breaks the mantle of the lake bed and reveals that the water is still there, just buried underground. Aladar digs some water holes and calls the rest of the herd back. But this turns into a stampede and Aladar shouts out “Wait! Wait! There’s enough for everyone!”
So…why do they have to wait?
Meanwhile, Bruton and a Redshirtosaurus have been scouting ahead looking for water and get ambushed by the two Carnos. The other Iguanodon is killed and the last thing we see is the open mouth of one of the Carnos lunging at Bruton. Shall Bruton survive? Read on to find out!
Back at the lake, Aladar helps the two baby Iguanodons get some water and Neera asks him why he decided to help Eema. Aladar basically says “Because, I’m not…you know…a dick?” and this confuses Neera like you wouldn’t believe. The herd leaves the weaker members behind to die all the time and Neera never gave it a second thought and that, children, is what we call a Nazisaurous.
Aladar shows Neera how to get water from the lake bed and when their paws brush they both practically involuntarily orgasm.
Yar, who’s watching all this with Zini says “One down…and well…one down.”
Heh. Yar, I don’t really like you, but you’re saying all the right things. Keep it up.
Bruton arrives back, badly injured, and Kron realises that he’s led the Carnos right to them. He orders the herd to move out. Aladar challenges Kron, saying that the slower members of the herd will be left behind and Kron basically tells him the old story about the two campers and the bear. Aladar angrily shouts to the herd “That could be you back there! Or you!”
Kron proceeds to kick the guano out of Aladar and for good measure throws a seriously creepy “Stay the hell away from my sister!” vibe his way. Hmmm…maybe it’s time for me to jump on board this bandwagon.
They quickly get left behind and come across a badly wounded Bruton who couldn’t go any further. Aladar offers to help but Bruton tells him to screw off. Aladar tells him that if he changes his mind they’ll be sheltering in some nearby caves. Bruton finally relents and Plio treats his wounds with some plants she finds in the cave that used to be on her island and that she knows has healing properties and…no, you know what? I’m not finishing that sentence. I’m out.
The two Carnos find them and Bruton tells Aladar to wake the others and lead them into the back of the cave. Bruton, sensing a oppurtunity to win the coveted “fastest heel-face in history” award, nobly sacrifices himself to hold off the Carnos and triggers a rock slide, crushing one Carno and sealing the rest of the dinosaurs off from the other. In fairness to Bruton, it’s actually a pretty damn badass scene. Aladar’s troupe reach a dead end and think all hope is lost but the lemurs smell daylight and the dinosaurs are able to break through the rock wall and find themselves in
The Great Valley The Nesting Grounds!
But hang on a minute, this makes no damn sense! Why did the plants here survive? Everywhere else all plant life has died but here the plants are verdant and lush. What miracle could have allowed such healthy plants to thrive in this…
The dinosaurs enjoy their new digs but Aladar wonders why the rest of the herd hasn’t arrived yet. He then sees that the normal entrance has been filled in with a rock slide and is now an impassable wall that probably has snipers on it for good measure. Aladar runs back through the cave to alert the herd but Eema shouts after him that Kron will eat him alive. It might also have helped to mention the surviving Carno, who will quite literally eat him alive.
The herd has reached the wall on the other side and Neera tells Kron that they should find another way around.
But Kron instead orders his herd of four legged animals weighing many thousands of tonnes to climb over the vertical wall.
Aladar arrives, calling to Kron that “I’ve made it to the valley!” and excuse me the WHAT? I’m sorry, THE VALLEY?! I THOUGHT YOU WERE HEADING TO THE “NESTING GROUNDS”?!
Kron is still dead set on Operation Spider-man though, and attacks Aladar and we finally get some thumb spike action. I mean, what is the point of having Iguanodons in your movie if they don’t use the thumb spike?
Aladar gets his ass thumbed but Neera saves him and the rest of the herd follows Aladar. But the Carno shows up at the end of the valley and Kron yells at the herd to follow him over the wall. Instead, Aladar tells the herd that with their powers combined, t
hey are Captain Planet the Carno can’t hurt them and he leads the herd passed it by…yelling at the thing. Really.
The herd makes it past the Carno who apparently just can’t stand loud noises but the Carno sees Kron climbing alone and realises it hasn’t had idiot in so long. Neera and Aladar rush to Kron’s defence and succeed in knocking the Carno into a ravine by headbutting it (guys! C’mon! Thumb spikes!). But it’s all for nothing as Kron is dead.
Flash forward a few months and Neera and Aladar are expecting their first brood. Plio cracks one of the eggs open (GODDAMN IT PLIO STOP DOING THAT!) and says hello to the new hatchling who’s probably imprinted on her permanently now. Yar lifts the baby up aaaaaaand guess which joke they thought was so funny they had to recycle it a second time.
And the movie ends with the knowledge that the dinosaurs will survive and that they’ll all live happily ever after.
Ohhhhhhh I do not like this movie. Not. One. Little. Bit. Dinosaur premiered at #1 and went on to gross almost $350 Million thereby setting the stage for Disney’s shift to computer generated movies and marking the beginning of the long, slow death of traditional animation at the studio. Oh, and it’s now part of the canon. That’s like forcing Sharon Tate’s family to invite Charles Manson to Christmas dinner.
God I just hate this movie so…damn…
Okay that’s it! DINOSAUR, MY OFFICE! NOW!