What a strange place in Disney’s story this film occupies. A CGI film from Disney, but not from Pixar, but still going for a more realistic aesthetic rather than the stylised look of films like Bolt or Chicken Little. It was for whatever reason excluded from the official Disney canon for some years, before being slotted back into place in 2008, possibly because only then would including the likes of Meet the Robinsons and Bolt seem legitimate.
I myself did not profess to be greatly impressed after seeing it on the 14 October 2000. ‘Okay, not wonderful’ was my glib younger self’s verdict. CG films were nothing very new by that point, not to mention the myriad impressive intros made for Playstation games back then, so if it is tempting to think the audience was more forgiving of CG back then because it was relatively new, already the visual style was not in an of itself enough.
Which is not to say that the film isn’t beautiful – it’s dated now, but the visuals remain pleasant. And of course, dinosaurs are always a hit with kids, and play a big part in animation: the ones in Jurassic Park pushed the boundaries of CG, The Land Before Time has to be one of the animated films that spawned the most sequels, and when Sony wanted to show what the Playstation could do with a technical demo, it was with a T-Rex. Dinosaurs are also good for pushing an environmental agenda – let us not forget the utterly bizarre and unnerving end to the Dinosaurs puppetry sitcom, in which a the main character’s attempts to take control of nature doom him and his family to a slow, hopeless death.
Dinosaur is part of this tradition, perhaps appearing at the wrong time to be a part of it rather than being dismissed as derivative at the end of the mainstream trend. After a meteor strike, talking dinosaurs begin an exodus to a valley that supposedly survived the impact intact. Tensions soon arise between the leaders of the group, who must focus on getting as many of the herd to their destination as possible, and the compassionate heroes, who hope to save everyone.
The problem with the film is that it just wasn’t memorable. The plot was simple and straightforward, and the heroes did nothing to distinguish themselves. Nothing iconic happened to them, as it does to all the most famous Disney characters. What is left is simply one of Disney’s low points – a film that nobody counts as their favourite, and very few care about.