Only a few months after Steven Spielberg got his dinosaur on with 1993's Jurassic Park, his short-lived animation studio, Amblimation, indulged in a kinder, gentler dino-take with We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story. In the arena of family-friendly cinema, 1993 feels like an eternity ago -- two years before Pixar would effectively rewrite the playbook with Toy Story. We're Back, it should be noted, suffers by comparison to most Pixar and Disney flicks. This yarn about talking dinosaurs, time travel and aliens is bland entertainment, to be sure, but at least it isn't offensively bland, and the youngest viewers might even enjoy its facile charms.
The tale begins, inexplicably, with a flashback. We hear from Rex (voiced by John Goodman, doing his best Bing Crosby imitation), a cuddly, talking tyrannosaurus whom we meet playing golf. He explains that he used to be a "real animal" back in the Prehistoric Age, and, sure enough, We're Back returns us to the days when dinosaurs walked the earth. Out of nowhere pops up some space aliens and their time-traveling boss, a kindly scientist named Captain NewEyes (Walter Cronkite). He feeds a cereal called Brain Grain to a quartet of dinosaurs, and voila! -- the overgrown reptiles are suddenly talkative, smart and sophisticated. NewEyes transports the creatures -- Rex, pterodactyl Elsa (Felicity Kendal), triceratops Woog (René Le Vant) and hadrosaurus Dweeb (Charles Fleischer) -- to modern-day Manhattan to fulfill the wishes of children who are longing to see real dinosaurs.
Once at New York Harbor, the dinosaurs are quickly befriended by two kids: tough-talking wiseacre Louie (Joey Shea) and neglected little rich girl Cecilia (Yeardley Smith), both of whom accompany the reptiles-out-of-figurative-water as they make their way across the city to the Museum of Natural History. Somewhere along the way, the dinos become entangled with Professor ScrewEyes (Kenneth Mars), NewEyes evil brother. He schemes to have the creatures revert back to their scary ways and enslave them in his Eccentric Circus.
Perhaps the most baffling thing about We're Back is how it squanders so many potentially intriguing elements. Screenwriter John Patrick Shanley, the scribe behind decidedly more illustrious works like Doubt and Moonstruck, dumbs down the storyline to a level that only preschoolers could seemingly appreciate. A gaggle of directors -- Phil Nibbelink, Simon Wells, Dick Zondag and Ralph Zondag -- keeps the pace brisk and the length mercifully short, and yet there is no compelling interest to keep watching.
The two-dimensional animation is fine, if unremarkable. Rex and his dino-chums are nice enough, but there is nothing interesting or particularly endearing about them. The movie comes close to choking up some genuine enthusiasm during its sole musical number, when Rex breaks into song at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, but even that quickly evaporates. Adding insult to injury is a saccharine music score by James Horner.
Aside from minor grain in a few scenes, the anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1 picture is generally good, with bright colors and strong lines.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is clear and crisp, and there is modest but worthwhile use of rear speakers. Subtitles are available in Spanish, French and English for the hearing-impaired.
Not a thing.
Only the youngest kiddos are likely to get much out of We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story. Flat characterization and a mawkish tone won't keep parents engaged, but this reviewer should confess that his 3-year-old daughter enjoyed the flick and has asked a few times since to watch the "funny dinosaur movie." Lord knows what's funny in it, but, hey, I love her. She gets a pass from me, and her seal of approval is enough for me to suggest that parents of young children rent it.