Friday, April 20, 2012

Erratic But Worthwhile, We’re Back: A Dinosaur’s Story Is A Lost Gem!

The Good: Great themes, Decent animation, Good voicework
The Bad: Oddly mixes very obvious character elements with surprisingly mature themes, SHORT!
The Basics: Amblin Entertainment’s We’re Back: A Dinosaur’s Story is one of the rare children’s animation projects that endures well now, even if it is far from flawless!

Sometimes, we have very strong memories of things we experience as children. In the case of my wife, it was seeing We’re Back: A Dinosaur’s Story. I know this because when I took her to New York City as our first long trip away together, she kept saying “The Museum Of Nat-ural History!” in a very specific, tone and drawl. She quickly informed me that it was what the protagonist in We’re Back: A Dinosaur’s Story would say and the way he said it. So, when the opportunity came for me to go out and feed the meter while we were actually visiting the Museum Of Natural History (reviewed here!), I did not waste that opportunity. It’s not that the whole thing is bad, it’s that hearing that drawl over and over again just got very old very quick. Ironically, I did enjoy it in-context when my wife picked up We’re Back: A Dinosaur’s Story and had me watch it with her last weekend!

One of the odd non-Disney animated movies that came out long after it would have been age appropriate for me, We’re Back: A Dinosaur’s Story made a real impression on my wife and having seen it, it actually made an impression on me now as well. The positive aspect of We’re Back: A Dinosaur’s Story that left an impression is that it has some wonderful lessons on both hope and fear and the power of will. Unfortunately, We’re Back: A Dinosaur’s Story mixes such mature themes and some pretty dark imagery in with some very inane and childish characterizations and plot structuring.

Buster is a little bird who is rebelling against Mother Bird when he falls onto Rex, a Tyrannosaurus Rex living in modern times with the ability to speak. He begins to tell the little blue bird his story. The story goes that Rex was living with Dweeb, Elsa and Woog in prehistoric times when Captain Neweyes and his alien friends arrive in a time machine. They feed the dinosaurs Brain Grain cereal, which makes them super intelligent and they pull the dinosaurs – with their consent – into the future to help grant the wishes of children living in the 1990s, most of whom just want to see real, live dinosaurs. In our times, Rex meets Louie, a tough street kid who ran away from his parents, and Cecilia, who is very polite and kind. Unafraid of the dinosaurs, they start to head to the Museum Of Natural History when they get separated near Central Park, thanks to the Thanksgiving parade.

Unfortunately, this puts Louie and Cecilia at the mercy of Professor Screweyes, the brother of Captain Neweyes. Screweyes feeds on fear and he exposes the children to their greatest fears, which turn them back into monkeys. Desperate to save the children, Rex and the other dinosaurs consent to work in Screweyes’ fear circus in exchange for the children getting re-evolved and set free. When that happens, Louie, Cecilia and Stubbs the Clown to work to free the dinosaurs and keep them from being used as mindless inspirations for fear.

We’re Back: A Dinosaur’s Story does not seem to know quite what it wants to be, other than not being a Disney animated musical (there is only one musical number in the film). The animation is homogenously good and I was actually surprised by how vivid the colors were even by today’s standards. The character designs for the humans and dinosaurs are distinctive and there is a good sense of movement to the film. We’re Back: A Dinosaur’s Story does not suffer from much in the way from age, at least in the way it looks.

We’re Back: A Dinosaur’s Story does suffer from a strange sense of time and place. I lived through the 1990s and nobody talked like Louie does in We’re Back: A Dinosaur’s Story. Instead, he seems like a 1940s anachronism, much the way Cecilia seems like a throwback to the 1800s. Even that, though, is pretty excusable.

What is tougher to swallow about We’re Back: A Dinosaur’s Story is how adult the themes are in combination with how safe and pedestrian the plot and character elements of the movie are. We’re Back: A Dinosaur’s Story is a very predictable, entirely formulaic children’s movie as far as the plot structure goes. Mixed in with the obvious adventure story with the tacked on romantic subplot between Louie and Cecilia is a strong moral tale that pits happiness and wishing against fear and the way it is used as an element of control! Professor Screweyes is scary and he uses fear in an adult and angry way that is visually presented with both the children and dinosaurs becoming enslaved simply by looking at his horrible screw eye. The benign and fun movie where children are going to be treated to the return of dinosaurs – who are hiding out in the Museum Of Natural History – is twisted into a dark and edgy movie. Sure, children might need to learn that wishes can come true and that fear can be used by bad people to control you, but We’re Back: A Dinosaur’s Story illustrates it in a way that is unsettling, even to adults.

We’re Back: A Dinosaur’s Story features the vocal talents of John Goodman (as Rex, seldom sounding like himself), the always-wonderful Yeardley Smith (Cecilia) and Joey Shea as Louie. Walter Cronkite voices Captain Neweyes and Kenneth Mars is typecast as yet another freaky villain as Professor Screweyes. Everyone in We’re Back: A Dinosaur’s Story performs with an appropriate level of enthusiasm and expressiveness, even when the lines are sometimes silly.

In the end, We’re Back: A Dinosaur’s Story is a tough one to recommend, though I liked enough elements of it to recommend it for older children. While they might find it corny, they are less likely to get nightmares from it. Then again, they might just wander around declaring eagerly that they are headed to the “Muse-um of Nat-u-ral History!”

For other animated films, please be sure to check out my reviews of:
Little Nemo: Adventures In Slumberland
The Secret World Of Arietty
Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax


See how this movie stacks up against other films by checking out my specialized index page where the movie reviews are organized from best movie to worst!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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