It's the most expensive movie released in 2000, with an official budget of 130 million (unofficially 200 million). This seems crazy. It looks great, yes, but you wouldn't expect the most expensive movie of the year to be uninspired kiddie-targeted Disney pap.
It's a CGI animated movie starring dinosaurs, in case you hadn't guessed. It also took forever to make, with Disney inventing new computer techniques to make it happen. There's a Dinosaur tie-in theme park ride at Disney's Animal Kingdom in Florida, which was meant to coincide with the film's release but ended up opening 18 months earlier. This film was reasonably successful, but if you're ever looking for an animated dinosaur film for kids, the one you want sounds like The Land Before Time (1988). That was directed by Don Bluth, had Steven Spielberg and George Lucas among its executive producers and went on to spawn a multi-million dollar franchise, including twelve direct-to-video sequels, merchandise and a TV series.
The Disney one isn't horrible, but it's not great either. It's disappointing when the prehistoric animals start speaking, but you soon get over that and at least we'd had a cool dialogue-free ten minutes beforehand. No, the only problem is that its script is earnest, sincere and not much more. You've got bad dinosaurs who believe in the survival of the fittest, while the good dinosaurs believe in working together to help the weak. Great. What next? No, that's the movie. It's not a bad theme and it's possible to do good things with it, but here it feels heavy-handed and there's no real attempt at debate between one side and the other. Sometimes the bad guys are right and survival of the fittest is exactly what they're up against. If you've got a huge herd of dinosaurs in a desert with no water, then it's absolutely the right thing to do to press on in search of less hostile territory. The film cheats by giving our hero (Aladar) a happy consequence of his decision to hang back, but that doesn't mean that all alternative choices were evil.
However the boot's on the other foot at the end of the film, when Aladar's found a path to safety. He tells the bad guys. They get shirty and try to ignore him. This has nothing to do with survival of the fittest. It's just stupidity, or perhaps if you're being generous, pride and the psychology of a bully.
Nothing in this film comes across as intelligent. Dinosaurs from different eras and geological areas live together, because it looks cool. Aladar finds his way to an island of lemurs, which exist because the film's producers thought the mammals that really existed in the Cretaceous period looked "hideous". Aladar gets in the way of a juggernaut-like dinosaur convoy and just stands in their way for what feels like five minutes, nearly getting trampled to death instead of simply joining the march. A gigantic blazing comet falls from the sky and hits with what looks like a nuclear detonation... then after that we're presumably meant to forget about any possibility of extinction events. Well, except maybe for the final voice-over. "We can only hope that in some small way, our time here will be remembered." That was quite good, actually.
There's also regrettable lemur sex business. Max Casella plays Aladar's best friend, lemur stepbrother and wisecracking sidekick. Yup, 'fraid so. This manifests itself in sleazy chat-up lines, which is just what we all needed between prehistoric lemurs in a Disney children's film. He gets called a jerk (and is), but that didn't make him any more welcome. There's also an unfortunate racial angle, in that our heroes will be asking questions like, "Is there anyone who looks like us?" In context, this makes sense. We're talking about different species. It's a waste of time for monkeys to have sex with dinosaurs. Nevertheless I could have lived without the implied message of "breed with your own kind", simply for its unfortunate real-life resonances. You'd hope American films in particular would try to avoid that.
Even the names feel ill-chosen. I was wondering if Aladar was an anagram of something, while the film's big mean dude is called Crone (eh?) and his sidekick is Bruton (mmm, subtle). Admittedly Crone is really spelled Kron, but obviously you won't know that until the end credits.
I've been having a bash at this film, but in fairness none of its problems are fatal. It's usually okay and has a few good bits, such as the scene where everyone gangs up on the (unrealistically large) Carnotauruses. I didn't hate the movie. I watched it peacefully and sort of enjoyed it. It has an uninspired and slightly preachy story, but it's not fundamentally broken or anything and you could watch far worse. Besides, the film looks terrific. The idea of doing a CGI dinosaur movie is excellent. It's wonderful just to spend time in its prehistoric world, brought to life with insanely expensive CGI (for the time) and backdrops that are actually taken from real tropical locations like Tahiti and Hawaii.
Other good things: the film includes no sops to creationism. This might sound like a sine non qua, but I wasn't taking any bets.
"You know how to catch a girl's eye, stud."