Dinosaur (2000)

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After a brief respite, I’m resuming my coverage of Disney movies in chronological order of release. My posts are a few behind, as I’ve continued watching one per week even though I haven’t posted about one in over a month. Oh well, just more for me to write about now, right? At least I’ve removed the shackles of a set posting schedule, so now I can be a bit more free-form, writing and posting whenever I feel like it.

There’s a certain symmetry to this post, as this past weekend I attended the Jurassic World exhibit at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia for my birthday (I am perpetually 5 years old and unashamed…also, there were way too many prepositions in that sentence for my liking. Oh well).  I could write an entire post on the exhibit (maybe I will, in fact), but for now let’s focus on the Disney film. I just felt like mentioning the exhibit because it was fun and awesome and kinda sorta related to the post at hand. Also hello, happy birthday to me!

Okay, moving on.

I’ll admit, I didn’t have many memories of this movie going in. I knew I had seen it in theaters when it was first released, a bit of a shocker given that I was right on the cusp of being “too old” and “too cool” for Disney (thankfully I relapsed).  I knew I had seen it that one time, and likely at least one other time after that, but I couldn’t remember the plot for the life of me.  I knew dinosaurs were involved (I’m incredibly astute, aren’t I?) but characters, plotlines, scenes? Nothing.

It’s a shame really, because as it turns out this film is pretty fantastic.

Dinosaur follows the tale of Aladar, an Iguanodon who is separated from his family as an egg, only to wind up on a remote island where he is raised by a family of lemurs.

{FUN FACT:  Although never named in the film, the island Aladar winds up on is Madagascar. How do we know? Because all lemur species in the wild are found on Madagascar and nowhere else in the world.   Don’t ask me where I pick up these random bits of trivia. I honestly have no idea myself.}

Aladar and his adoptive family’s world is turned upside down when massive meteors strike the planet, destroying the terrain and leaving countless creatures either dead, or on a desperate search for food and water.  The ensuing film follows Aladar and family as they join up with a herd of dinosaurs who are traversing dangerous terrain as they attempt to reach their breeding grounds, a lush paradise that has miraculously remained untouched by the recent natural disasters.

Okay, let’s get one thing out of the way: if this plot sounds a little too familiar, that’s because it’s basically the exact same plot as The Land Before Time.  That being said, I’m choosing not to fault Disney for telling this story, because theirs is so much more realistic and heart-wrenching than The land Before Time.

This realism is in large part due to the animation style.  The dinosaurs and all other creatures are CGI, but all of the landscapes and background are live-action.  Rather than creating a distinct line between two worlds when various cinematic styles are combined (say, in Mary Poppins), Dinosaur actually succeeds in making their CGI characters seem more realistic by placing them on a live action backdrop.  The sense that you’re watching something real makes the film so much more enjoyable than if it was just another animated film.

The story itself is something that may have gone over my head as a child, but can be appreciated so much more as an adult.  There are so many subtle cues in this film, showing Aladar’s compassion and bravery without ever needing to pander to the audience by having another character explain that he’s kind. His actions are allowed to speak for themselves, with the film proving time and again that kindness and teamwork can mean the difference between life and death.

I wish I knew what this movie didn’t stick with me more as a child.  Watching it as an adult fills me with a newfound appreciation, not only for the brilliant combination of animation and live-action, but also in the writers’ wonderful storytelling.  The film may focus on dinosaurs, but there is a humanity to each character that transcends the story being told on the surface.  Dinosaur serves as an allegory for life, with characters representing nearly anyone we may come across in life: the wise older people who may not seem very helpful, but who can nevertheless be a valuable asset if the need arises; the loving family who takes someone in and loves them as their own, no matter how different they are; and the cruel, headstrong know-it-all whose hubris will inevitably be his downfall.

Am I stretching a bit? Perhaps just a little.  Still, there is far more depth and emotion in this film than in some of Disney’s other endeavors, and certainly deserves more recognition than it receives.  Maybe the live-action element leaves people uncertain as to whether to classify it as an animated film or not (not that there should be a question. Disney considers it part of their official animated canon; that’s good enough for me).  It’s a unique film, employing a style Disney wouldn’t replicate again until The Jungle Book released earlier this year (oddly enough, I consider that a live-action film, as does Disney. Go figure).  If they were going to combine live-action film and CGI as they did, I’m glad they chose Dinosaur as the forerunner.  The film is beautifully made, and the filmed backgrounds help lend realism and credibility to an already historical film.  This style would never have worked with a cartoonish style, and I shudder to think what could have been done had some of Disney’s other films employed such backgrounds. As it stands, I can’t picture Dinosaur having been made any other way, and am grateful that, even having been made in a period of declining Disney animated film quality, Dinosaur stands out as a shining example of a wonderfully made film.

-Jess

 

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