In 1998, Disney opened the gates to Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Walt Disney World’s fourth and largest theme park at 580 acres, most of it dedicated to the animals themselves. Over the years, it’s remained committed to being a true zoological park dedicated to the conservation of wildlife (Despite what that dumb Nāhtāzū campaign in 2001 said), as well as adding to its theming of Disney by adding an Indian whitewater rafting ride, a glorious mountain roller coaster, a wretched roadside carnival, and a land based off James Cameron’s Avatar film, soon-to-be-franchise. But something was off.
Back in 1995, when Michael Eisner announced the project, he proudly and ambitiously explained that the park would be dedicated to animals of today, yesterday, and fantasy. Sure enough, we got plenty of animals of today, and a whole land dedicated to dinosaurs. But the fantastic beasts? Where to find them? Well, they had planned a realm called Beastly Kingdom where attractions based on dragons and unicorns were slated to open. In fact, they were so confident, it was teased for a very long time. Below are just a handful of examples, past and present, of the nods to what could have been:
However, due to the massive costs of keeping real animals, Eisner had to either axe Dinoland U.S.A. or Beastly Kingdom. Beastly Kingdom ultimately got postponed indefinitely. Dinoland got the go-ahead. Why? Because their E-ticket ride, Countdown to Extinction, was based off a long-in-development movie set to premiere in 2000. That movie was called Dinosaur and this is my review of it.
Press pound and prance to prehistoric Pangaea, with Disney’s Dinosaur!
(Also, if you want to hear my audio opinion on this movie with Brandon the Bambi Man, hit here to find out!)
The plot: Aladar is the sole iguanodon living on an island inhabited by lemurs. A meteorite crashes and destroys the island, and everyone on it, except for him and four of his family members: grandpa Yar, mother Plio, little sister Suri, and best friend Zini. They wander into a massive herd of various dinosaurs, who are on their way to the nesting grounds. However, the leader, Kron, thinks the only way of ensuring survival is be individually strong and let the weak fall by the predator-laden wayside. Aladar, believing teamwork will save them, butts heads with Kron, but it gets worse when he falls for his sister, Neera. But when carnotauruses are on the prowl, the group gets lost, and rock walls impede their progress, Aladar might have the chops to lead the herd to safety.
How’s the writing?: I have found rice cakes that were less stale than this script.
I mean it. The story is so trite. It’s your basic Moses story, an exiled young one whose wildly progressive ideas run contrary to the established conservative mindset, but through his optimism, courage, and kindness, leads others to safety. There are few to no surprises. Usually, I wouldn’t mind, if the characters were at least kind of interesting. And they aren’t.
The actors are clearly doing their best given what they’ve been given, but there’s only so much they can do. They’re little more than stereotypes and one-dimensional figures whose job is to fulfill whatever role the movie thinks they need to fill. Zini is the smart aleck with the anachronistic references. Neera is the love interest whose heart is to be swayed by the hero. Bruton is the antagonist who learns the error of his ways. Eema and Baylene are the sassy old black woman and the posh old dame. The list goes on. Nothing is new, nothing is interesting, and it’s all so very, very boring.
Does it give the feels?: Barely. To have feels, there need to be characters I can latch on to and if I can’t, what’s the point?
I’m supposed to care about Aladar and his lemur family, and empathize with them when they’re trudging through the vast desert. However, I find that difficult because they’re written poorly, and nothing is interesting me. The landscape is dull, and the characters have no props to interact with. It makes for a boring, boring movie, one where it desperately needs fully dimensional personalities to hold my interest. But the film only has ten credited voice actors and all the others just roar and grunt like non-sentient animals. From what I’ve read, the movie was intended to be a more artsy type of movie with silent dinosaurs. But Michael Eisner – again with that incredible, insightful wisdom of his – decided the movie needed to be more marketable, and requested the movie feature dialogue. Thanks, Michael.
But let’s try to pick apart the emotional scenes. When baby Aladar gets adopted? Maybe, if we hadn’t seen that scene less than a year prior with Tarzan. With the lemurs doing their mating ritual? Maybe, if the scene hadn’t kept cutting back to Zini’s antics. When the characters mourned the loss of their family? Maybe, if the characters were to emote a little more. When they find a lake has dried up? Maybe, if it were less focused on Kron’s bullishness and Eema’s babbling. When one of them dies in the cave and they reach a dead end? Maybe, if the dialogue was less boring and cliché. Seriously, a major rewrite could have truly benefitted this movie into being something great, even with a story as recycled as this one.
Who makes it worth it?: With most films, there’s at least one character I find myself partial to, and it’s usually the comic relief, because if they can’t make me at least chuckle, then the movie’s in serious trouble. Such is the case with Zini.
In the tradition that followed after Robin Williams’ Genie, Disney beat the idea to death that if they give a sidekick character a funny voice and a bunch of anachronistic/pop culture things to say, it’d somehow transform itself into comedy. But at least Genie was a spirit who could transcend space and time. A lemur, though? Who says things like “it comes with a pool”, “dawn of time”, and “love monkey”? Even if the other characters were being just as irreverent, how are these lines, in any way, funny?
I think the only character who escapes with any dignity is Baylene, the brachiosaurus. She doesn’t quite hit that archetype like, say, ’87 DuckTales‘ Mrs. Beakley, sputtering about being proper in such a savage environment, but it is there. It just has a touch more emotion to it to slightly elevate it to kind of acceptable.
Best quality provided: Disney wanted everyone to notice just how awesome the computer graphics were. And let’s be honest, they’re not wrong.
When marketing premiered the trailer, it was the first five minutes of the movie, from Aladar’s egg sitting in the nest, to the carnotaur attack, to the egg getting whisked away to the remote island. To their credit, it was beautiful. Vaguely poetic and grand, with the photo-realistic dinosaurs blending seamlessly into the live-action backgrounds. The only problem is all those glorious backgrounds from California, Venezuela, and New Zealand are only in that first five minutes. The rest of the movie is desert and rocks, and it looks just so unappealing. It’s like we got cheated out of much better backgrounds.
What could have been improved: I have gone on and on about the boring writing. There’s not much point in droning on much further. But that is the movie’s number one issue. My second problem is the complete lack of focus in the film’s attentiveness on accuracy.
This movie went well out of its way to look realistic, as if to draw attention to just how well they’re portraying the Mesozoic. Not just the details, though that is exemplary, but then you notice how well they move and details like the meteor’s shockwaves. That’s great attention to detail. Credit where credit’s due!
But all that said, notice how there are 14 identifiable dinosaur species, 12 of which are from the late Cretaceous period. Iguanodons are from the early Cretaceous, and brachiosaurus are from the late Jurassic. First of all, that seems like a conscious effort to deviate from such an egregious detail. Second, the late Cretaceous and the late Jurassic we’re separated by 90 million years! Yes, they try to explain that Baylene’s the last of her kind, but there were brachiosaurs in the opening, meaning they all somehow went extinct between Aladar’s birth to his adulthood.
Pangaea was also broken up by the late Cretaceous, meaning these dinos would never have seen each other. Carnotaurs were found in South America. Iguanodons were found in Europe. Velociraptors were found in Mongolia. This movie wants to have it both ways by being historically accurate and not historically accurate. But the dumbest inaccuracies are the use of grass and lemurs, both of which didn’t exist until after the dinosaurs went extinct.
Verdict: I’d forgive this movie for its inaccuracies, its boring story, and stale dialogue, all of it, if the characters were written better. If the jokes were funnier, the backgrounds were more interesting, or the research on dinosaurs were fixed, that’d help, but because Aladar, Baylene, Neera, Kron, Yar, and the rest are written so by-the-book, I’m so very, very, not interested. At least a bad movie can be entertaining, but this movie commits the unforgivable sin by being boring. No more than two eggs out of ten.
Countdown to Extinction opened with the park in 1998 and still draws crowds to this day. But after the release of this movie, it was renamed Dinosaur, rendering all awesomeness in the name null and void. And to think…Eisner bet on this movie’s marketability more than a land about dragons and unicorns. Think about that.