A dinosaur named Rex (voiced by John Goodman) is living in modern day America, when he notices a bluebird named Buster getting picked on. He decides to relate a tale to the bird, of how he managed to turn up where he has. It’s all because of a scientist (fairy? God?) named Captain Neweyes (voiced by Walter Cronkite!), inventor of a contraption that reads kids dreams and makes them come true. The kids apparently want dinosaurs roaming the streets of New York, singing and dancing in parades, and joining the circus. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Neweyes’ evil brother Prof. Screweyes (voiced by Kenneth Mars), inventor of a nightmare-capturing contraption that can turn dinosaurs into monsters. ‘Coz apparently the default setting of a dinosaur is cute and placid. Learning is fun. Screweyes operates a circus and his scheme is to house the scarified dinosaurs under his Big Top. Wouldn’t the cute and cuddly versions be less of a financial risk on his part? Just a thought.
I’m not a fan of Steven Spielberg’s ‘other’ dinosaur movie from 1993, but this pitiful effort from Spielberg’s Amblin/Amblimation is flimsy, stupid, and a complete waste of a thankfully short amount of time. Scripted by John Patrick Shanley (screenwriter of “Congo”, writer-director of “Joe vs. The Volcano” and “Doubt”) and directed by Phil Nibbelink (“An American Tail: Fievel Goes West”), Simon Wells (grandson of HG, co-director of “An American Tail: Fievel Goes West”), Dick & Ralph Zondag (mostly animators, though the latter directed another animated film called “Dinosaur”), there’s barely even a movie here and what little there is, is just insulting. In fact, it might just be the worst animated movie I’ve seen since 1940’s overrated “Fantasia” and although he didn’t direct it, it’s probably the most shameful thing Spielberg has ever put his name to. Yes, including “War Horse”.
The voice cast is fascinating on paper (Martin Short, Felicity Kendal, Jay Leno, Lisa Simpson, and Julia Child all in the same film?), but only veteran news anchor Walter Cronkite (in his only acting role) really comes off well. He’s perfect, and Kenneth Mars isn’t too bad, either as his polar opposite. The usually ebullient John Goodman in particular sounds bored out of his skull, however, and the rest are completely forgettable. Martin Short, meanwhile, voices a clown and gives a dry run for his Jiminy Glick voice, but simply isn’t given funny material here. As for Yeardley Smith, having her voice a little girl here was a mistake, as she can only do her Lisa Simpson voice. Why? Because that’s pretty much how Yeardley Smith herself speaks!
However, it’s not the voice cast one should blame here, it’s mostly Shanley actually, working from a book by Hudson Talbott. It’s a terribly flimsy and stupid story. You’ve got dinosaurs, and how do they get used in this film? They travel to New York, go in a parade, and join the circus. The fuck? I know “Jurassic Park” was pretty clichéd, but that is just infantile. That’s great if you’re an infant, and one must remember that family movies do have children in mind, but that doesn’t mean I can’t detail my own reaction to the film, nor do I think films should really only keep the young ‘uns in mind given who usually takes them to the cinema in the bloody first place (I know it’s a semi-relevant rant, but it always annoys me when people say that you can’t criticise a kids movie unless you’re a kid yourself. Ridiculous).
The story makes no sense whatsoever. It’s told in flashback by a golf-playing dinosaur (voiced by Goodman), involves some half-explained God/fairy godmother bullshit to start the film, and whilst all of the dinosaurs can talk, they are treated like the reptilian terrors you’d expect by most of the human characters. There’s no consistency whatsoever, and whilst I can buy fantasy (I love fantasy), you need to properly and coherently set-up your fantasy world first. This one tries to have its cake and eat it too. Hell, it doesn’t even tell you its central conceit until about ten minutes in. Given it’s about an old fart who grants kids wishes to have dinosaurs back, I kinda wished I didn’t know. It’s a dreadfully stupid premise, even for something aimed at younger folk. If those wishes were really granted, there’d be no more children left. Or any humans. We’d all get eaten or stomped to death (Hence why the film clumsily attempts to differentiate between how the dinosaurs were in the Prehistoric age, and what they’ve become thanks to Prof. Neweyes’ invention. It’s facile). But even the film’s ending makes no damn sense. It doesn’t explain why the T-Rex is playing golf instead of being with the others, and the story he tells to the little bird (the basis for the entire film) seems to have no bearing on the bird’s situation whatsoever! What the hell? How did they manage to rope in so many big names for this shit? It defies all rational thought.
The animation is sub-par, too. The darkened palette later featured in “Fievel Goes West” has been applied here, too, so it must indeed be the Amblimation style. It looks ugly and muted, like someone is pressing too hard with their crayons, especially the dull character animation. The dinosaurs are singularly unappealing, and the darkened palette makes everything look like it’s 4PM. The background animation is just flat, painting-like backgrounds that don’t mesh with the character animation/style at all. Meanwhile, the dinosaurs are way too small as depicted here. Yes I know why, it’s to have them interact with the kids in the film, but it looks absurd. According to this film, Pterodactyls were the size of a small horse.
No, this just won’t do. The whole thing, running under an hour I might add, just has the general vibe of ‘get it done fast’. Maybe 6 year-olds will like it, but even then I’d say only 1993’s 6 year-olds. Hell, even in 1993 I would’ve recommended 1988’s “The Land Before Time” instead (It has a Spielberg connection too, by the way). No idea what the modern equivalent would be, but certainly it’d have to be better than this nonsense. It’s pathetic, from people who really ought to have known better. Weak as piss.