Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Dinosaur

3/4

Starring (voices): D.B. Sweeny, Alfre Woodard, Ossie Davis, Della Reese, Joan Plowright, Julianna Margulies, Max Casella, Hayden Panettiere, Samuel E. Wright

Rated PG for Intense Images

The main selling point of "Dinosaur," other than its subject, is spectacle.  While there is a plot, characters who talk and some action sequences, that's of secondary importance to the images that are on the screen.  The question is whether after sixteen years the visuals can still hold up against the likes of "Avatar" and "Jurassic World."  The answer is not really, but it's good enough to warrant a watch if you're in the mood for some nostalgia.  Or want to keep the kids occupied for a while.

Aladar (Sweeny) is an iguanodon who has been raised by lemurs.  While he was still in his egg, he got separated from his parents and ended up on an island and grew up under the care of Plio (Woodard) and Yar (Davis) and their two children, Zini (Casella) and Suri (Panettiere).  Suddenly, a meteor strike forces the unconventional family to abandon the island and head for the continent.  There, they meet a herd of various dinosaurs who are going to the herding grounds.  They are led by Kron (Wright), an iguanodon with stubbornness issues.  Kron's mentality is the survival of the fittest at all costs, and if you can't keep up, you might as well wait for death.  That leaves others like the elderly Baylene (Plowright), a brachiosaurus, Eema (Reese), a styracosaurus, and Url the ankylosaur at the mercy of predators.  Specifically, a pair of vicious carnotauruses.

It's not especially original, or even that interesting.  But it fills the requirements of a successful kids movie: it looks great, has humor and action, has characters we can identify with and is short enough not to overstay its welcome.  With a movie that was made for (unofficially) $200 million, that's all you can ask for.

The voice actors are familiar, but not "name" actors.  That suits animated films well because it helps the audience to see only the characters and not the actors who portray them.  For better or for worse, Hollywood has stepped away from this, and that's a mistake.  Fortunately, that's not the case here.  D.B. Sweeny, always a likable actor, voices Aladar with spunk and heart.  Alfre Woodard and Ossie Davis make effective parents, Della Reese and Joan Plowright are sympathetic old ladies, Julianna Margulies is a good love interest, and Hayden Panettiere and Max Casella are on hand to look cute and add comic relief.  Samuel E. Wright makes for a suitable antagonist, whose flaw is being bullish and uncaring.

So, does the animation hold up?  For the most part, yes.  It's mostly effective, although there are times when it is clunky.  It sometimes looks like a video game cutscene rather than an animated movie.  There is a bit of a disconnect between the actors' voices and the characters' expressions, which is subtly odd.  It's not as bad as if the audio and visual did not sync up, but it's a little distancing.  And the dinosaurs and the backgrounds don't always mesh convincingly.  I sometimes wondered if it was a cut and paste job.  That said, there are some truly gorgeous moments, particularly at the beginning.  The opening sequence, which was used in the teaser for the film and details how Aladar ended up with the lemurs, is reminiscent of the "Circle of Life" sequence in "The Lion King," and some of the visuals on the island are just as gorgeous to look at.

This isn't great art or even a great film.  It never was.  But it is entertaining enough for me to recommend it.

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