Through a series of almost Rube Goldberg-esque misadventures, a dinosaur egg winds up in lemur territory. The hatchling Iguanodon, Aladar, is adopted by the colony, and grows to adulthood on their idyllic tropical island. But the impact of a giant meteorite (but apparently not the giant meteorite, if you get my drift) wipes out the entire colony except for Aladar and his immediate lemur family; in order to survive in a rapidly changing world, this group falls in with a migrating herd of mixed herbivores, all attempting to reach the fabled Nesting Grounds, and Aladar finds his idealistic communal upbringing clashing with the harsh Darwinism of the herd's leader, Kron, a much more militant type.
Dinosaur catches a lot of flack for several things, most notably that the main characters happen to talk. To be sure, the promo reel for the movie - essentially the first five minutes, and which appeared in such places as the Tarzan DVD - detailed the egg's journey in a non-verbal manner, and probably led people to expect a Disney version of Walking With Dinosaurs. The shock waves when the voice cast was announced were almost palpable. Add to that the liberties taken with dinosaur anatomy - lips on Iguanodons! - the presence of grass in a prehistoric world! and lemurs! You might as well have cavemen! The grousing began in earnest.
Message to the grouses: IT'S DISNEY, FOR PETE'S SAKE! WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU EXPECTING?
Ahem. That's off my chest, let us proceed... The story has also been criticized as overly simplistic, and yes, it is. It's an old, predictable story, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. What seems to be lost on many - and the movie's photorealistic, CGI animation probably adds to this - is that this film was not made for the same people who enjoyed Magnolia. It was made for kids. You know, the little folk? The ones clutching the plastic Aladars and saying "Rar!" to no one in particular?
In fact, if you have children, there is probably some version of this movie in your house already. The PG rating is due to some pretty intense scenes, most involving the meteor crash and the carnivores - the threat of death is not merely referred to obliquely in this world. Then again, Disney has been successfully scaring kids in a fairly non-traumatic fashion since Snow White. Use your judgement.
Digital movie, digital transfer. Can it get any better than this? Even more than in the theater (where the characters were close to life-size), you can admire every bump and wrinkle in the dinosaur's hides, every rustle of the hair on the lemurs. The sound is well-mixed - essential when you have dinosaurs plodding about - and especially serves the score by James Newton Howard well. If you have either of the Jurassic Park DVDs, the menu will bring a smile to your lips, as it archly imitates the Spielberg menus.
If I have one complaint about this package, it is the load times, especially when moving around the extras... but even when moving from the usual FBI warnings to the main menu! Some of these black screens last up to 25-30 seconds - I timed them - and that can be an eternity when there are children in the room wondering loudly where their "diny-sores" are. I suppose it could simply be my player - anyone besides me have this problem? (Officially, Disney has acknowledged that this is a "maximum-capacity disc" and that it may not play well on certain DVD players. - Ed.)
On Disc One, there is a frightening number of extras. Two commentary tracks, one featuring the two directors and FX supervisors, and the other hosted by the Producer and featuring myriad technicians, are outstanding from a technical viewpoint, and especially if you are wondering what you're seeing onscreen is real and what is not. "Film Fact Fossil Dig" is a feature similar to those on The Matrix and The World Is Not Enough - an icon appearing during the movie allows you to access behind-the-scenes featurettes, then return to the movie.
There are, additionally, two games, "Dinosearch" and "Aladar's Adventure", and a "Dinopedia" with factoids about the various species in the movie. Alas, these will be more frustrating than anything else to their target audiences due to that long load time.
Additionally, there is a Descriptive Audio Track for the visually impaired, and previews for seven Disney attractions, including a trailer for Atlantis: The Lost Empire which has me drooling. And - perfect for a Foley fan like myself - an isolated sound-effect track.
That's a packed disc; but going into too great detail on the extras on Disc Two would fill a second article easily. The menu cleverly imitates the computer screen of an animation workstation, and breaks the material down into six categories: Development, Production, Creating the Characters, Music and Sound, Abandoned Scenes, and Publicity. Under each heading are several subheadings (a flowchart is included in the pack-in booklet!), and there is much to look at here: art galleries, featurettes, storyboards (both drawn and animated). My problem with the load times made these a bit tedious to get through, and the still galleries were especially taxing, as my remote did not maneuver through the pictures as easily as the menus indicated.
The box also touts "Hidden Easter Eggs", though these are not so well hidden as on other discs. On most of the pages detailing your choices under each heading there is a small picture of a fossil dino skull; highlight it and hit 'enter' and the Egg will play. These include two black-and-white sequences from the old "Wonderful World of Disney" TV show, in which Uncle Walt shows us audio-animatronic dinos being built for the 1964 World's Fair, and a recreation of Winsor McCay's vaudeville act with his proto-cartoon, Gertie the Dinosaur. There is also an educational cartoon short done for the State of California, "Recycle Rex", and a computer blooper reel, in which rendering mistakes create bizarre images.
Phew. I'm not sure it's possible to cram more than Disney has onto two discs; this amount of material translates into a hefty price tag, but it's possible to find the package online for less than $30. Whether you want to shell out this much for the deluxe package or seek out the lower-priced basic disc - which still has its fair share of extras - is going to depend on how much you thirst for that second disc of techno-geekery.
Dr. Freex, 3/14/2000