_Dinosaur_ marks another advancement for Walt Disney Pictures' animation
division. It is the first computer-animated feature from the Mouse to be
produced entirely in-house, as opposed to their hit collaborations with
the Pixar animation studio. The film also convincingly blends CGI
characters with live action backdrops. With such innovation on display,
it's unfortunate that the makers of _Dinosaur_ couldn't find a more
interesting story to tell.
_Dinosaur_'s story is typical of Disney's traditionally animated
features, where a young protagonist comes of age. Here it is the young
iguanodon Aladar (voiced by D.B. Sweeney), who is raised by a loving
family of lemurs after his egg is displaced (in a truly spectacular
wordless opening sequence). Aladar's pleasant life with foster
caregivers Yar (Ossie Davis) and Plio (Alfre Woodard) is violently
interrupted when a meteorite destroys their island home, and they and
young lemurs Zini (Max Casella) and Suri (Hayden Panettiere) find
themselves with a herd of dinos braving battering heat and a lack of
water to make it to their lush nesting ground.
That's the entire film--the dinosaurs making their long trek to the
nesting ground, with Aladar coming into his own while bonding with
budding love interest Neera (Julianna Margulies) as well as old dinos
Eema (Della Reese) and Baylene (Joan Plowright), and butting heads with
the group's leader Kron (Samuel E. Wright), who sees no fault with
letting the weak in the pack get lost and/or die. There are some good,
thrilling set pieces, namely those involving the ravenous carnotaurs who
stalk the pack. But they are just pieces in the larger puzzle that is
Aladar's coming of age, a tale that Disney has told in more entertaining
and emotionally satisfying ways in films past.
However, Disney hasn't told the tale in such a visually striking way.
The seamless compositing of the CGI creatures with the live action
settings has a lot to do with the nearly photo-real quality of the
computer effects. The textures, from Aladar's scaly skin to the fur of
the lemurs, are remarkably lifelike and meticulously detailed. The
creatures also move convincingly like dinosaurs; the dinosaurs' ability
to speak aside, the film feels like an authentic recreation of life
during the cretaceous.
Perhaps that's why that opening sequence, in which Aladar's egg is
removed from its nest and dropped onto the lemur island, is _Dinosaur_'s
big highlight. Told without a single spoken word, it is so compelling
because it feels so real. When the speech and the familiar story kick
in, the film feels less so--and, hence, less fresh. _Dinosaur_ is indeed
a sight to behold--and one well worth paying the full movie ticket price
to see--but it could've been a more nourishing feast for the mind.