This is a film Father Geek and AICN has been watching closely for years now. I tell you we have been hoping and praying that it is pulled off well. Several years ago an ex-Disney production artist sold Harry and I some beautiful production art he had done for a project he called DINOSAURS at a major comic book convention. The stuff was great detailed colorful work and we were excited, then a couple of years later JURASSIC PARK came out and we felt that no mere cartoon had a real chance to match those computer images, but time passed and Disney changed their approach. They shelved the Traditional cel idea and moved on to a computer generated project, early in 1997 we got hold of some basic wire frame tests, and later that year some of those rubbery plastic looking tests fell into our hands and we were getting excited all over again. Then some finished, or nearly finished footage came our way and we fell in love with the potential. Finally a complete opening sequence revealed itself to us, it employed no words , no music, just phantastic imagery and natural sounds, it was glorious. The stuff we've seen is outstanding, breathtaking to say the least, but we have learned little of how it all fits together ... till now... I really hope they work out any bugs in the story itself, I would hate like Hell to see 10 years of planning and hard work by so many very talented people go unrewarded because of scripting problems. Here's our spy's report...
Long time, no talk. However, the impetus to break silence was so huge, so commanding, I had to send this in. My previous experience as a spy has been very limited: a campus screening here and there, and when the desire hit, I'd send in a review. The movies I wrote about were usually inconsequential and written about a week before release; this time it is quite the opposite - I had the chance to preview Disney's money release for next summer (though I've seen it listed in some places as coming out in winter), "Dinosaur."
It all started when a buddy and I were tooling around the mall, trying to eat up some time. One of those test screen drones approached us about seeing a screening that night. Normally, I balk at such offers because it seems like the proposed films are stinkers like, "some people at the studio are saying this is Pauly Shore's best" or "another feel-good hit from Whoopi." When the guy said it was a MAJOR animation release from Disney, my buddy at I jumped at the chance to attend, thinking it must be one of two films: "Toy Story 2" or "Fantasia 2000."
As you mentioned in your post on "Tarzan," the movie was, in fact, "Dinosaur." The audience was composed mainly of twentysomethings like myself and my friend (strange, eh? Though i guess Disney knows it will have the kids and their parents locked in, so they are seeing if the film can garner any appeal with this swing crowd). If the two of us were any indicator, Disney will have to do quite a bit of tweaking to do so. Let me begin the review with two caveats: I'm not Disney's typical audience, and this was a very early print. Concerning the former, the print is so early, much of the animation wasn't completed, and often storyboards were substituted with scenes that had to be animated. The first time a clean, crisp, resolute image cut to a storyboard, much of the unschooled audience laughed, as is to be expected.
On to the review: Let me start off with saying the visual splendor of what was completed was spectacular. Standout scenes that had been finished included that initial scene following the path of the dinosaur egg from nest to the jungle (as I believe has been mentioned by those who have seen that footage), the comet impact, and the climactic battle with the carnosaur. Visually, Disney really has something on its hands...this really got me excited to see both "Toy Story 2" and "Fantasia," which will supposedly have raised the bar for this film. Imagine the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park (as they impacted all of us in the original), but with the personality of typical Disney characters. The eyes will be in for a treat when this is finally released. This is the first time CGI has been used so extensively and used to such realistic effect in a Disney film, though the story in this film is much less engaging than either "Toy Story" or "A Bug's Life."
First, in what ways did this story succeed? I must credit Disney for employing some unconventional points, from often just letting the simple beauty of the environment overtake the viewer without feeling pressured to having the characters speak (some of the scenes are reminiscent, ironically, of the "Rites of Spring" sequence in the original "Fantasia," but updated for the CGI age) to having no song numbers nor mustache-stroking, Alan Rickman-voiced villian (the mute, savage carnosaur comes closest). However, the storyline that does exist seems too conventional for a film that is supposed, and at times, does feel revolutionary. What exists is a hodgepodge of previously proven Disney successes, from shades of "The Jungle Book" to heavy strokes of "The Lion King." As always, Disney tempers its innovation with the disappointingly trite.
Kudos must go to Disney for not using any "big name" voices, which can often be a distraction, which I hear is the case with "Tarzan" and Rosie O' Donnell. However, none of the characters created has a strong enough presence to create empathy with the audience, or at least the one in attendance tonight. Colorful characters have often been the saving grace of even Disney's more lackluster output; in this story that cries for it, not one character resonates and sticks in the imagination of the viewer.
The music for the film was temp tracked, with the only recognizable tunes being a pop song from Peter Gabriel (a possibility to do this after Disney enlisted the other former Genesis frontman, Phil Collins, to do "Tarzan"?) and the more dramatic moments of "Titanic"'s score. The Disney PR lady who spoke to us before the film said this "recognizable music" typified the music that would make it into the final version.
Overall, I think my friend said it best when he said "The Land Before Time" packed more of an emotional wallop. Disney has outdone itself with what it has put before our eyes; what can be said for the story is not as kind. Individually spectacular moments (like the previously mentioned tense climax with the carnosaur) are interspersed with less than enthralling story development (for a cut that clocked in at exactly 90 min, it felt slow in parts). I don't know how Disney best goes about remedying this. My personal suggestion is to better explain the relationship between Aladar, the main character, and the rhesus monkey family that raises him - show more of their earlier interaction. The latter seems to exist in the second and third acts of the picture as either comic relief or to move the story along; we don't really feel as if this is Aladar's family, or the pull that exists between them and his own species. Filling in some of those blanks may do wonders in characterizing both. One hopes that Disney can find a way to match the aesthetic ingenuity of this work with some deft creativity in the writing department. As things stand, both "Toy Story 2" and "Fantasia 2000" show greater promise in doing so, but there is still much time left before we see if a completed "Dinosaur" does the same.