Directed by Eric Leighton and Ralph Zondag
Review by Matt Heffernan
Disney is always in the precarious position of being on the cutting edge of animation while steadfastly sticking to their own conventions and formulas. Their latest work is a revolutionary combination of computer-generated characters superimposed on live-action backgrounds. Yet, they still have found a way to "Disney-fy" the film to within an inch of irrelevance.
Late in the era of dinosaurs, an egg is abandoned when a nesting colony is attacked by a vicious Carnotaur (?). After a Moses-like voyage down a river, the egg is recovered by a family of lemurs. It hatches in the arms of Plio (voiced by Alfre Woodard), and she raises the dinosaur as her son, despite the protestations of her father, Yar (Ossie Davis). The dinosaur grows up to be Aladar (D.B. Sweeney), a giant among monkeys, who has never seen another of his kind.
The situation changes drastically when a massive meteor falls in the area, causing explosions and fires that dessimate the forest, save for Aladar and his adopted family. With Plio, Yar, and his "brothers" Zini (Max Casella) and Suri (Hayden Panettiere) on his back, they wander a vast wasteland. Eventually, they meet up with a herd of dinosaurs, led by the gruff Kron (Samuel E. Wright). They are headed for a new nesting ground, so Aladar joins them, mostly for the chance to nest with Kron's sister, Neera (Julianna Margulies).
What is likely to win any audience over is the opening sequence of the film, which shows Aladar's egg-life. There is no dialogue until the lemurs show up, just incredible images of extraordinary detail and movement. Then we are reminded that this is just another Disney cartoon. Anthropomorphizing animals has been a long tradition for the studio that Mickey Mouse built, but it doesn't quite work in this context. The look of the film is too engagingly real, and seeing these creatures talk is jarring. Of course, Disney is too afraid to make an animated feature without dialogue, even if it would be a better film.
I would be more willing to accept the dialogue if was really good. Unfortunately, the screenplay by Walon Green (The Hi-Lo Country) is nothing more than a simple contrivance. The voice-over talent does a good enough job with it, but the story is really driven by action. At just over 80 minutes, the film is still stretched to include dialogue that just takes time and attention away from the visual narrative.
I am still giving this film a positive rating, despite its many problems. I was regularly amazed at the sheer depth of the animation -- right down to the wind blowing through the lemurs' fur. It is by far the best computer animation ever made for a feature film, and I would strongly recommend it to any animation fans. However, I must recommend against taking very young children, due to the intensely violent images. You shouldn't take pre-schoolers to the movies, anyway, but that's another argument.
For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Video Pick of the Week
Guide to Star Ratings
Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan