Prehistoric Beast

Disney's 'Dinosaur' offers jaw-dropping visuals, but its troubling images of violence may cause this revolutionary effort to miss the evolutionary boat.

May 19, 2000|By ANN HORNADAY | ANN HORNADAY,SUN FILM CRITIC

According to production information, "Dinosaur" took five years to make, not to mention 3.2 million processing hours, 45 terabytes of disc space, 250 computer processors and 70,000 lines of code.

According to rumor, it also cost $200 million to produce. The question before us is whether it was worth it.

A lifeless, warmed-over story meant to overcome its limitations with eye-catching special effects, "Dinosaur" falls into a limbo that so many animated features seem to occupy these days, the nether world between a children's movie and a full-blown adult action adventure.

Rendered in dreary earth tones and shot through with terrifying scenes of carnage and death, "Dinosaur" doesn't exactly seem to be suited for young children. And although older youngsters will no doubt think its gargantuan creatures and copious intra-species violence is pretty cool, the film is still a cartoon, and a tiresome one at that.

Indeed Aladar, the lovable Iguanodon at the center of this story, is a classically Disney-fied hero, who by the end of the movie resembles more of a scaly puppy-dog than a potentially deadly dinosaur. We meet Aladar while he is still in his egg, when a group of marauding predators attacks Aladar's mother and destroys her nest. Conveniently enough, Aladar's egg survives and is picked up by an Oviraptor, who then is forced to hand over the booty to a traveling Pteranodon.

Some of "Dinosaur's" most picturesque imagery is displayed during these opening sequences, when little egg-bound Aladar is flown through sweeping vistas of prehistoric oceans and mountain valleys. Aladar's journey -- which will recall Moses' in some quarters, Elian's in others -- comes to an end with a tribe of lemurs, who take him in, hatch him and raise him as one of their own.

Aladar, voiced in "Dinosaur" by D.B. Sweeney, embarks on an idyllic childhood with his surrogate parents Yar (Ossie Davis) and Plio (Alfre Woodard) until their life together is interrupted by a hellacious meteor storm.

The family, including Aladar's adoptive brother and sister Zini and Suri, set out to find a new home, on the way encountering the first glimmerings of extinction, and how to band together to avoid it.

Although Aladar and his lemur family will no doubt charm little ones, some of the film's more adult themes could prove problematic. This must be the first Disney cartoon ever to feature what amounts to a lemur orgy (couched in a catchy musical number), and after the truly terrifying meteor storm, the movie lumbers from one scene of bloody violence to another, without anything in the way of comic or emotional relief.

"Dinosaur" may be the most technically impressive cartoon ever made, but it will never attain the classic status of Disney's older films, or even "The Lion King" or "Toy Story."

That's because those movies combined visual wizardry with something more important: stories and characters kids and their parents could care about.

Aladar, Yar, Plio, Zini and two wonderful elderly dinos named Baylene and Eema (voiced by Joan Plowright and Della Reese) are all sympathetic, but seem drawn to the dimensions of a Happy Meal.

The crucial fact that "Dinosaur" and its makers miss is that, no matter how many millions of dollars or dozens of terabytes it took to make, a movie that ignores the human element is destined for a quick extinction.

`Dinosaur'

Starring the voices of D.B. Sweeney, Alfre Woodard, Ossie Davis, Julianna Margulies, Joan Plowright, Della Reese Directed by Ralph Zondag, Eric Leighton Rated PG (intense images)

Released by Walt Disney Pictures

Sun score * 1/2

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