Dinosaur could have been special. Opening with a beautiful, spectacular sequence of a dinosaur egg finding its way to its eventual hatching site is mesmerizing. With a James Newton Howard soundtrack to fuel it, this seven-minute sequence is amongst the more stunning scenes to ever come out of Disney.
Then the damn things talk.
That opening scene is important for many reasons. It’s apparent that a story could have come out of this without a single spoken line. The music tells the tale, hitting the highs during danger, and the lows during the lighter moments. It shows how special the animation could have been. The pterodactyl flight beats out anything in the Jurassic Park series.
Then the damn things talk.
With humanized faces and corny, predictable dialogue, Dinosaur falls apart. Instead of a unique, stand-out movie-going experience, the film becomes another generic and sub-par animated movie. The absurd story is purely filler, and all of the work done to make the creatures look spectacular against the live action backgrounds is wasted.
The plot revolves around Aladar, an orphaned dinosaur raised by a pack of monkeys. As a comet hits the Earth (whether or not it’s the “one” is never really clear), they’re forced to relocate to find that one place that somehow managed to avoid being destroyed in the catastrophe. Of course, the promised land exists so everyone can live happily ever after and apparently never die out.
The script hits all the usuals, from delivering a message kids can follow to putting the hero in limited danger everyone knows he’ll escape from. It’s unbearably clichéd, and does nothing original. The Land Before Time series has been delivering this same style of storytelling in the same era for decades. The only difference here is the visuals. Also, the carnivores never apparently evolved enough to speak, only the cute, lovable herbivores. Good for them.
There’s no question that the movie looks good, if not great. The special effects hold up in almost every scene eight years later, but they’re not worth sitting through this tired story to view them. The dinosaurs are nothing more than marketing material, as any creatures could have filled in to tell this tale. It’s a shame this wasn’t something more.
If the movie was a disappointment, so is this Blu-ray effort. Video quality is inexcusably bad. Colors are faded to the point where this almost looks black and white during certain scenes. Black levels are non-existent, hitting gray tones throughout. The overall tone is soft and lacking in fine detail. The DVD edition looks almost equal with the exception of the increase in resolution and bit rate. Even compression becomes an issue, causing posterization in the background (inexcusable in a hi-def format, and rare even on DVD) and noticeable artifacts in long shots.
What was once a demo-worthy experience on DVD has become lackluster and dated. Key scenes, such as the comet hit, are severely lacking. Bass is hardly noticeable, and limited surround work during the action leaves this mix as flat as the video. Some small touches such as jungle noise and a nicely wrapping soundtrack are the only highlights.
Never mind the extensive two-disc DVD edition. This must not exist to Disney anymore. Almost none of those features have made the cut here, and the additional pieces are not worth an upgrade. A commentary from the co-directors is active and informative though if you’ve never owned this on SD DVD.
Monster Cloud is a so-so featurette on the comet hit and how it came together. It only runs for four minutes. Origins is a short film that lasts a little over six minutes. In HD, the piece offers far better video than the main feature, though it’s riddled with grain. Disney’s Movie Showcase offers the best scenes for audio and video, though on this disc, that’s a misnomer.
Aladar is an iguanadon in the film, along with many others in the film. Their hard beaks are a key trait of the creature. However, in the film, they’re removed so the lips can move to produce speech. The original script had no dialogue, but Michael Eisner doomed the production by forcing the issue, and likely ruined an accurate iguanadon rendering in the process.