DINOSAUR: COLLECTOR'S EDITION
Review by Michael Jacobson
Voices: D. B.
Sweeney, Julianna Marguiles, Samuel E. Wright, Della Reese, Ossie Davis, Joan
Directors: Ralph Zondag and Eric Leighton
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1
Video: Widescreen 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Studio: Walt Disney
Features: See Review
Length: 82 Minutes
Release Date: January 30, 2001
Dinosaur, the latest computer animated film from the
Disney studios, lives up to its hype. By
combining an ever improving technology with gorgeously filmed live backgrounds,
the movie creates a sumptuous visual look unlike anything seen before.
The prehistoric world comes to life, and every frame vibrates with
authenticity and wonder…it may be the closest we’ll ever come to seeing what
the old earth with her once mighty beasts looked like.
If only there was a story to go with it.
It’s a shame that these artists would go to such
tremendous lengths to make Dinosaur such a distinctive and amazing
looking film, yet couple it with a lame, rehashed tale about an outsider raised
in a world foreign to him, yet manages to find his true self and become
something in the end. Let me
see…off the top of my head, I can recall the short “Lambert, the Sheepish
Lion”, The Jungle Book, the more recent Tarzan…even to a
certain extent, Toy Story, Pinocchio and others followed this same
formula. They may not have looked
as good as Dinosaur does, but they told the story in better and fresher
Given the awesomeness of its subject matter, you would
think nothing less than an equally awe inspiring tale would go with it, and
I’m disappointed to say I was surprisingly underwhelmed by the narrative,
which gets underway after a striking opening montage that follows the
misadventures of a single egg as it journeys through this beautiful and
dangerous world. This sequence
establishes the look and feel of the film in an incredible way.
Most people, myself included, had seen it before as Disney’s “special
sneak preview” of the film, but it continues to inspire after multiple
It ends with the arrival of this dinosaur egg on a small
island inhabited by lemurs—little furry primates. The egg hatches to reveal the baby Aladar (voiced as an adult
by Sweeney), who is met with comments such as “things like that eat
things like us”, but he soon grows up with them on their isolated
island and becomes something of a good companion and family member to them.
One day, however, the first (but not the last, as we know
from history) meteor shower rains down upon the earth, causing destruction and
atmospheric and geological changes. The
world of these creatures is turned upside down as their once fertile lands were
reduced to desert. Aladar and his
lemur friends will have to join up with a troupe of traveling plant eating
dinosaurs to survive. Their
objective: find water and avoid the
meat eaters who are just waiting for their chance to strike.
The leader, Kron (Wright), is a creature who abides by the natural
selection law: the herd is more
important than the individual, and if a weaker or less able dinosaur can’t
keep up the pace, so be it. Food
for the mighty.
Naturally, even in a realistic looking prehistoric
adventure, there has to be a love angle in a Disney film, and Aladar meets the
first female of his kind in Neera (Marguiles), the sister of Kron.
She begins to see in Aladar the dinosaur he could become, the same one he
never knew he could be. Naturally, there will have to be a challenge with the haughty
and single minded Kron if he’s to claim his worthwhile place as a leader.
If it seems like I’m giving too much story away, I should point out
that I predicted all of this within the first few moments of Aladar joining the
herd, and I’m sure you will, too.
Disney has always been famous for taking animals and other
creatures and indulging in anthropomorphism.
In most of their cartoons, it’s charming and works, but for a film that
strives for the kind of realism Dinosaur does, it’s a distraction.
They look like real dinosaurs, but they don’t act like them…at least,
not to the best of any reasonable person’s imagination.
As usual, the villain animals (in this case, the carnotaurs and raptors)
DON’T speak. Their vocabulary is
limited to their grunts and growls. It’s
always been Disney’s way of passing judgment on their characters, and the
irony is, in order to be good, you have to be more like a human.
To be sufficiently bad, we the audience don’t get to share in or even
imagine what the antagonist creatures think or feel.
The speech itself is a problem, but the constant patterns
of gags and modern idioms are an even bigger one.
Phrases like “he put the prime in primate”, or “I’m the love
professor and school is in session”, or “you big jerkasaurus”…well, they
just removed me from the element that much more.
I’m at least grateful that they didn’t feel the need to let Aladar
burst into a bombastic song penned by Elton John and Tim Rice.
And yet, I do appreciate what this film achieved…it looks
like nothing that’s come before, and will no doubt be thought of as a
technological landmark in the history of cinema. I would certainly applaud an Oscar nomination for special
effects. But the awesomeness of the
presentation can’t make up for a tired and lackluster story that makes even an
82 minute film seem much longer than it is.
Dinosaur obviously took a lot of work and dedication
to create. It deserved much better
than what it got.
As you might expect with a computer animated film
transferred directly from its digital source and an anamorphic transfer (thank
you, Disney!), Dinosaur looks spectacular. The array of colors is almost limitless…vibrant and
beautiful, and surprisingly natural looking throughout, with no instances of
bleeding. Images are razor sharp
and crisp from beginning to end, no matter what level of lighting is being
simulated. There is no noticeable
grain or compression, no distortion or shimmer…the only complaint is a very
poorly placed layer switch. But all
in all, you can consider this a reference quality disc.
The 5.1 soundtrack is quite good, especially given the use
of the audio to emphasize the size of the dinos. The subwoofer gets plenty of action, and the combination of
effects and music make the track lively and dynamic. There are several sequences that involve multi-channel
capabilities, and the discreet signals make for an involving and well balanced
listen. Dialogue is crystal clear
throughout…a real knockout all around.
Oh, man, where to start?
Disc one includes two commentary tracks, one by the directors and effects
supervisors, and one by the producer and production team…everything you could
want to know about the construction of this unique picture.
There’s also a film facts ‘fossil dig’, some behind the scenes
extras, a narrated and full motion ‘dinopedia’ with information about all
the creatures in the film (except how they learned to talk), animated fun facts,
a couple of games, a descriptive audio track for the visually impaired, DVD ROM
extras and an isolated sound effects track.
Disc Two, which separated the Collector’s Edition from
the standard one, has nearly three hours of additional bonus material.
If you have the time to navigate the detailed menus, you can find plenty
of footage about the production, including storyboards, interviews, early tests,
the music, the character design, and much, much more, plus the usual trailers,
abandoned sequences, special effects demos, trailers and TV spots, plus hidden
Easter eggs, which I haven’t had time to hunt for.
This is a VERY brief overview of disc two…suffice to say, this DVD has
everything but the kitchen sink.
There have been some reports of disc problems in the early
going, which are to be corrected by future pressings. All I noticed was that the navigation for both discs were
extremely slow, but at no time did my player lock up or go to the wrong area.
I found the same difficulties with my Toy Story Ultimate Box set.
Whether or not this is in relation to what is being fixed, I don’t
know. If you pick one up and find
problems, Disney is asking that you return it to the store you purchased it from
for an improved copy.