The Iguanodon King

It begins in the egg, as everyone’s story does. But before the egg can hatch, it has as many adventures as Indiana Jones, before finally coming to rest on an island inhabited by an advanced race of monkey-like lemurs. Hatching, the cute little iguanodon is adopted by the tribe, and named Aladar (D.B. Sweeney of Spawn).

Growing to tower over his family in a relatively short time, Aladar – though plagued with loneliness for his own kind – is happy living among the lemurs. Then everything changes the day a gigantic meteor falls to Earth. The resulting explosion destroys not only the island, but all the landscape as far as the eye can see.

Aladar manages to save his family, and they all end up washed ashore on the mainland. While fleeing a band of velociraptor predators, they run head first into a herd of iguanodons – along with various other species – who are making an exodus to their breeding grounds, where they believe they can live in peace and plenty. The herd is led by a big iguanadon named Kron (Samuel E. Wright), with the aid of his second Bruton (Peter Saragusa) and sister Neera (Julianna Margulies).

Though eager to take his place among his own kind, Aladar becomes concerned that the herd is moving too fast for older dinos like styracosaur Eema (Della Reese of Psychic Killer) and brachiosaur Baylene (Joan Plowright), which places him at odds with Kron. Eventually, the misfits are separated from the herd altogether, until a crisis for all forces a confrontation.

With Dinosaur, Disney raises the bar yet again for both special effects and animation. Every shot is gorgeous and it’s nearly impossible to tell where real photography ends and digital creation begins. The difference between the animation here and that in the Jurassic Park movies is more in attitude. The JP dinos are treated as real animals, whereas the Dinosaur dinos are more akin to the animals in Bambi: anthropomorphic in speech and personality, while carrying on in real behavior. The effect is very successful, except for a few shots in which the lemurs move like marionettes.

Having noted all that, I did my best to pretend about ten minutes into watching the film that I wasn’t watching animation at all. It’s easy to get lost in all the eye candy and lose track of the film itself – which stacks up reasonably well.

The plot – like many Disney plots – swipes rigorously. From Don Bluth’s The Land Before Time comes a lot of ideas, including the main plot about misfit dinos helping the herd find their way to the promised land. They also borrow from their own successes: from Tarzan comes the raised-by-another-species theme, and from The Lion King, the idea of a young animal rising to lead his herd (and the African music).

Derivative, yes – but it all works just fine, especially since I found it impossible to block out how damn gorgeous the visuals are. Yet another plus is the fact that this is feature continues the weaning process away from animated musicals. Now, after Tarzan and Toy Story‘s limited use of songs, they’ve managed to do without them entirely, trusting the narrative to stand on its own without interruption.

Dinosaur may go on to be eclipsed by another miraculous picture in the near future. But for now at least, it stands as a classic of the genre. Take the kids, enjoy – but keep your mouth shut about that extinction business, lest you find yourself going home with a carload of weepers.

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