Welcome to my weekly discussion of the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”
This is a weird one. In Europe, it, along with Winnie the Pooh, is not considered in the canon whereas The Wild is included in the canon instead.
Budget: $127.5 million
Box office: $349.8 million
Plot: A Carnotaurus attacks a watering hole, triggering a stampede. One surviving Iguanodon egg ends up on a far away island populated by lemurs. One of the lemurs, Plio, names the hatched baby Aladar and raises him despite her father, Yar’s objections.
Years later, a giant meteor strikes and destroys the island, spreading destruction in its wake. Aladar, Plio, Zini, Yar and Plio’s daughter, Suri, flee and jump across the sea to the mainland. They mourn for their losses before moving on.
While crossing the deserted wastelands, they are ambushed by a pack of hungry Velociraptors. After escaping, the family comes across a remaining multi-species herd of dinosaurs led by Kron who are on a journey to reach the “Nesting Grounds”, a valley said to be untouched by the meteor. Impressed by Aladar’s compassionate ways, Kron’s younger sister Neera begins to fall in love with him.
Meanwhile, two Carnotaurs pick up the herd’s trail and begin stalking them for food. Bruton and an Iguanodon scout search for water, but are attacked by the Carnotaurs. During a rainstorm, the stragglers were spending the night in the cave, Bruton saves the others and sacrifices himself, causing a cave-in to kill one of the Carnotaurs in the process. As the rest of the group venture deeper through the cave, the other Carnotaur, having survived, vengefully resumes searching for the herd.
They reach a dead end, but after they knock down the dead end together and successfully find the Nesting Grounds on the other side, Eema sees a large wall of rocks blocking the original entryway to the valley. Knowing that the herd will die attempting to climb over it, Aladar rushes off alone to find them, and he gets pursued by the surviving Carnotaur.
As Aladar arrives to catch up with the herd and suggests the safer way to the valley, a stubborn Kron furiously attacks him and they engage in battle until Neera stops them, silently disowning her brother. The herd decides to abandon Kron and takes Aladar as their new leader.
As they prepare to leave, the Carnotaur confronts them. Aladar rallies the herd to stand together, and they bellow their way past the predator. The Carnotaur pursues Kron on the ledge and, after a brief struggle, bites him on the back. Aladar and Neera fight against the Carnotaur until he plummets into the ravine below to his death. The two are relieved, but their joy is short-lived when they find that Kron has succumbed to his wounds.
In the aftermath, the herd are led back to the Nesting Grounds as their new home. A new generation of dinosaurs hatch sometime later, along with Aladar and Neera’s children. The lemurs find more of their kind, and soon they begin embarking on a new life together.
Background: The concept for the film was originally conceived by Paul Verhoeven 1 and Phil Tippett 2 in 1988 and was pitched as a stop-motion animated film with the title Dinosaurs. Verhoeven and Tippett pitched the idea to Disney, The idea was shelved until Michael Eisner, seeing the success of Toy Story, suggested discarding the original script for the film and using computer animation as opposed to stop-motion. The film was originally supposed to have no dialogue at all, in part to differentiate the film from Universal Pictures’ The Land Before Time with which Dinosaur shares plot similarities. Eisner insisted that the film have dialogue in order to make it more “commercially viable”.
Animation: The film combines the use of live-action backgrounds with computer animation of prehistoric creatures, notably the titular dinosaurs, produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation’s Computer Graphics Unit that was later merged with Dream Quest Images to create Disney’s The Secret Lab department. 3 While the characters in Dinosaur are computer-animated, most of the film’s backgrounds are live-action and were filmed on location. A number of backgrounds were found in Canaima National Park in Venezuela.
Music: The soundtrack album was composed by James Newton Howard. He would later compose the scores for the Disney animated features Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Treasure Planet.
D. B. Sweeney as Aladar. He is known for playing Phil Lowenthal in Memphis Belle, Travis Walton in Fire in the Sky, Doug Dorsey in The Cutting Edge, Shoeless Joe Jackson in Eight Men Out, and Dish Boggett in Lonesome Dove. Max Casella as Zini. He is known for his roles in Newsies, The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire, Doogie Howser, M.D., Vinyl, Cro and the voice of Daxter in the Jak and Daxter video game series. On Broadway, he played Timon in the original production of The Lion King; a performance for which he was awarded a Theatre World Award and received a Drama Desk Award nomination. From 2000 to 2001 he returned to Broadway as Marcellus Washburn in the revival of The Music Man.
Alfre Woodard as Plio. Her breakthrough role was in the Off-Broadway play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf. She won a pair of Emmys for performances in Hill Street Blues and L.A. Law. She starred in films such as Grand Canyon, Heart and Souls, Crooklyn, How to Make an American Quilt, Primal Fear, Star Trek: First Contact, Passion Fish, K-PAX, The Core, and The Forgotten. She also had a small role in Marvel’s film Captain America: Civil War and played Mariah Dillard in the Netflix series Marvel’s Luke Cage. Ossie Davis 4 as Yar. He made his film debut in 1950 in the Sidney Poitier film No Way Out. He found recognition late in his life by working in several of director Spike Lee’s films, including Do The Right Thing, Jungle Fever, She Hate Me, and Get on the Bus.
Julianna Margulies as Neera. Her breakout role was as Carol Hathaway on ER. 5 She also appeared in the miniseries The Mists of Avalon. In 2009, she took on the lead role of Alicia Florrick in The Good Wife on CBS. 6 Dame Joan Plowright as Baylene. In 1957, she co-starred with Sir Laurence Olivier in the original London production of John Osborne’s The Entertainer. In 1961, she received a Tony Award for her role in A Taste of Honey on Broadway. She appeared in such films as Enchanted April, 7 Dennis the Menace, a cameo in Last Action Hero, and Tea With Mussolini. She won another Golden Globe Award and earned an Emmy Award nomination for the HBO film Stalin.
Della Reese 8 as Eema. She began her career as a singer with her hit single “Don’t You Know?” She hosted her own talk show, Della, which ran for 197 episodes. She was the first African American to guest host The Tonight Shiw She starred in films such as Harlem Nights, A Thin Line Between Love and Hate, and Expecting Mary. She is probably best known for playing the role of Tess in Touched by an Angel. Hayden Panettiere returns as Suri, and Samuel E. Wright returns as Kron.
Critical Reception: Roger Ebert gave the film three stars out of four, praising the film’s “amazing visuals” but criticizing the decision to make the animals talk, which he felt cancelled out the effort to make the film so realistic. Ebert wrote, “An enormous effort had been spent on making these dinosaurs seem real, and then an even greater effort was spent on undermining the illusion”. Todd McCarthy of Variety called it “an eye-popping visual spectacle” that is potentially too “touchy-feely” for some audiences.
Legacy: Disney Interactive released a tie-in video game on the Dreamcast, PlayStation, PC and Game Boy Color in 2000.
The theme park ride “Countdown to Extinction” in Animal Kingdom was renamed “DINOSAUR”, and its plot, which had always prominently featured a Carnotaurus and an Iguanodon, was mildly altered so that the Iguanodon is specifically meant to be Aladar, the film’s protagonist. The plot of the ride is now about the riders traveling through time to a point just before the impact of the meteor which caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, to bring Aladar back to the present and save his life.
My take: Well… it sure looks spectacular. The blending of live action photography and computer generated characters really worked. It’s just that the story is kind of dull. And a little of Max Casella goes a long way.
Next Week: We head to South America for a whole new groove