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Extinction Level Event

By Fred Choi

Directed by Ralph Zondag and Eric Leighton

Screenplay by John Harrison and Robert Nelson Jacobs

Featuring the voices of D.B. Sweeney, Alfre Woodard, Ossie Davis, Max Casella, and Hayden Panettiere

There are some things in life that are simply inevitable. Irritating pop music icons is one of them. Impossible 6.002 tests is another. Gimmicky television programming that people allow themselves to be conned into watching is a third.

Add to this list formulaic Disney movies. Dinosaur is Disney’s latest movie and the second of its two summer releases, Fantasia 2000 being the first. Like Fantasia 2000, the film Dinosaur has vast amounts of potential which are never fulfilled. With Disney’s years of experience in storytelling, brand new computer animation studio, and the technology of computer animation developed to such a high level, the film could have been magnificent. As it is, despite stunning visuals, Disney’s first animated story of the new millenium is no more interesting than any of the animated films of the old one and insults its audience by presenting a movie about dinosaurs without a single new spin.

The trailer for Dinosaur, which presented the first ten minutes of the film, hints at the many opportunities of the film that were too easily missed. The first sequence shows the path of a dinosaur egg as it moves from its mother’s nest to dinosaur to dinosaur until it finally lands on an island inhabited by lemurs. The sequence reads like a stylized version of something you might see on the Discovery channel and is extraordinary because of the amount of information and emotion it communicates solely through visuals and music. One can only wonder how the artists at Disney might have gone about making an entire film with no human dialogue, had they risen to the challenge.

The “original” screenplay of Dinosaur (by John Harrison and Robert Nelson Jacobs) is painfully formulaic. The story, a suspicious hybrid of Tarzan and The Land Before Time, concerns Aladar, a young iguanodon raised from birth by a clan of lemurs. After a meteorite destroys their island, the group joins a herd of dinosaurs heading towards “the nesting ground,” lead by the irascible and hard but well-meaning iguanodon Kron. Among the herd are also Bruton, Kron’s sidekick; Neera, Kron’s sister and Aladar’s love interest; and several dinosaurs whom Aladar befriends. The film skips three-dimensional characterization, glosses over Aladar’s moments of introspection, and relies too much on unmemorable dialogue, giving the film distance from the viewer and a sleek, impenetrable surface.

Despite a mostly uninteresting story, Dinosaur is still worth seeing merely for the beautiful visuals. The film combines digitally enhanced live-action photography and computer animation almost seamlessly and creates a realistic natural world that contrasts strongly with the bright and shiny toy world created for Toy Story and Toy Story 2 by Pixar. The lemurs’ fur and the characters’ muscles and movements are gorgeous and the anthropomorphizing of the characters is well-done and rarely exaggerated

Although Dinosaur fails to satisfy on several accounts, there are still some ways in which the film is a relief from the rest of the usual animated fare. The story, while mediocre, is not a painfully inaccurate retelling of a famous myth or masterpiece of literature such as Hercules and The Hunchback of Notre Dame were. In addition, the film thankfully omits gratuitous, cheesy songs which would have been completely out of place in the life-like world it creates and doesn’t shy away from dinosaur violence and its PG rating.

Dinosaur’s lack of edge is much more easy to forgive than the new Fantasia’s, given that Disney gambled a reported $200 million on its first feature from its new computer animation studio. The recent success of such quirky films as Being John Malkovich and American Beauty give hope for a Disney film which will break free from tradition for once and give us something completely new. And although I may hope that the current batch of teen icons will hit puberty and grow up, 6.002 will be completely restructured, Survivor will be cancelled, and that Disney will produce a novel film, I’m certainly not holding my breath.