"Dinosaur" remains one of the most visually stunning (and costly) animated features that has ever been released. While the computer animation throughout the film is spectacular, the only problem is that the story and dialogue itself is sometimes less than engaging. The film uses various methods of CGI special effects to bring dinosaurs to life in the midst of various real locations. There's always been the saying that effects can't replace the enjoyment of watching a good story - this time, the effects are often so unbelivable that "Dinosaur" works almost completely on a visual level.
The story revolves around Aladar(DB Sweeney), a little dino who gets separated at birth and raised by a bunch of little creatures who look like lemurs. One night, a meteor hits the planet and wipes out most life forms; the shot is pretty magnificent, with excellent effects. The monkeys and Aladar run into a band of dinosaurs and begin to follow them and their mean-spirited leader.
Again, the world that the effects have created is nothing short of perfect. I wish that there could be a bit more spark and humor to the characters, though. Although Disney's usual partner, Pixar("Toy Story 1 & 2") didn't do the animation here, it would have been nice if they had contributed a script polish. Even younger members of the audience will likely recognize elements of the plot from other Disney tales. The voice work by the actors involved is generally fine, although there really aren't any standouts.
All-in-all, I enjoyed the experience of watching "Dinosaur", especially since the presentation on this DVD is visually perfect, but I was suprised at how thin the story was for a movie that cost about 125 million dollars to produce. Also, although I think most kids will certainly find "Dinosaur" highly enjoyable, the youngest children in the audience might find some of the violence in the film a bit scary.
VIDEO: Disney presents "Dinosaur" in the film's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and like some other recent Disney animated films such as "Toy Story", the presentation comes directly from the digital source, resulting in a magnificently sharp and clean picture. This is really about as good as it gets, and I found the film itself to be visually pretty jaw-dropping. Sharpness and detail are nothing less than perfect throughout the movie; the level of detail visible is especially remarkable; some scenes almost take on a three-dimensional feel.
Colors are beautiful throughout the film; lush, deep greens and a wide palette of other colors look natural and vibrant, with no flaws at all. Speaking of flaws in general, I didn't find any throughout the film; no pixelation, no shimmering or other problems. I really don't have too much to say for Disney's presentation of "Dinosaur" because there's nothing to complain about - this is certainly reference quality, no doubt about it. The layer change is at about 53:26.
SOUND: The DVD offers both Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 presentations, but I didn't find much of a difference to either version. The film offers an audio presentation that seems often more score driven than anything. The score fills the listening space at every chance it gets, and sounds particularly rich and clear. There are scenes throughout the movie that provide more agressive surround use, especially during the more intense moments. Even during the quieter scenes, there are some subtle uses of the surrounds that proved to be particularly enjoyable. Now and then there was a moment where I thought the surrounds could have been used to a fuller extent, but it's a minor complaint.
Generally, I found the audio to be very entertaining, even if the use wasn't always quite as effective as I would have liked. Bass is often strong, and James Newton Howard's score adds to the excitement of some of the film's scenes. Dialogue obviously has been recorded by the actors providing the voices, and sounds clear and easily understood.
Also included is a sound effects only track, although unlike some other instances where this has been included (like "A Bug's Life"), the effects track here is only in Dolby 2.0, not Dolby Digital 5.1. Additionally, there is a "Theatre Vision" track for those who are visually impared, as a narrator tells the audience about what the characters are doing on-screen. This is a great feature and I think it should be included on more DVDs.
MENUS:: The menus open with an animated clip, then open into the main menu, which has some slight animation in the background. Most of the sub-menus also contain background music or animation, as well. Some have noted that the disc's menus take a long time to load up in their players - although I didn't have any trouble waiting for the main menu to open, some of the sub-menus did seem to take a little longer than I'm used to, but nothing that I found distracting. For disc 2, a clip of various behind-the-scenes materials leads into a main menu that features a "computer-screen" with various subjects.
Commentary One: This is a commentary track from directors Eric Leighton and Ralph Zondag along with visual effects supervisor Neil Krepela and digital effects supervisor Neil Eskuri. The group generally focuses on the effects that went into the making of each scene, taking apart the layers that went into each shot of the movie - and in a movie like this one, there's certainly a lot of work that went into each and every shot. For those of you who aren't too into "effects-driven" commentaries where the group points out the technique used, this might not be a track that you'll enjoy.
While it's not completely "effects-driven", the rest of it is a talk about elements of the story and some behind-the-scenes details. There's not much at all in the way of pauses, and the 4 are able to talk throughout the film. It's a bit technical at times, so kids might be a little bit bored by it if they're going to listen. It makes you appreciate even a little more the commentary tracks done by the Pixar ("Toy Story") team, which easily chat about the more technical details of the effects without getting too technical and have a lot of fun joking and chatting about the making of the film. This certainly isn't a bad track, but it's a little slow here and there.
Commentary Two: This is a commentary track hosted by producer Pam Marsden, but containing information given from many different members of the production team. Although the listening experience is a little bit fractured since there are a lot of different people talking, I almost found this a track a little more interesting at times, as the track is a little more general, focusing on various aspects besides the special effects. Although the effects are discussed at times on this track, I found these talks to be a bit more interesting as the discussion seemed slightly more energetic and went through more topics.
Film Facts Fossil Dig: This feature is accessable from the first disc while watching the movie. There are three ways to watch these behind-the-scenes clips. You can either select to have an icon pop up during the movie, access from their own menu or go to the chapter index, where scenes that have this feature are marked with a logo. These featurettes cover various topics about the production, and even offer some alternate footage, such as an alternate opening that's in rough form. There's also a more detailed look at how some of the effects were completed, as well as footage of the crew out in real-life locations during production. The featurettes are called "3D Workshop Opening Sequence", "Lemur Live Action Reference", "Live Action Shoot: The Ritual Tree", "Progression Reel: The Meteor Strikes", "Dinosaur Models", "Deleted Scene: Scavengers", "Scene In A Different Light", "Voice Recording", "Deleted Scene: Eema Gives Up", "Storyboard To Film Comparison", "Deleted Scene: Neera Saves The Dinosaurs", "The Cave: Miniature Set", "Foley Sound Effects Demonstration" and "Alternate Ending".
Aladar's Adventure:(Disc 1) A fairly neat little game, this allows viewers to go through caves in search of other dinosaurs. Very nice animation.
Also On Disc 1: "Dinosearch" Game; "Dinopedia" featurette about the history of dinosaurs and "Sneak Peeks". Remarkably (and thankfully) Disney has not made these trailers play when the main menu starts - they are included in their own menu and you can select them one by one. Hopefully, this is the way that they will be in the future - although I don't mind trailers for other titles on a DVD, they should be on their own menu, not before the main menu opens. In any case, the trailers included here and "Snow White"(which comes to DVD later in the year); "Disney's California Adventure", the Summer 2001 animated "Atlantis", "Lady and the Tramp 2", "102 Dalmatians", "Hunchback Of Notre Dame 2" and an interactive "Atlantis" prequel game.
Proof Of Concept Test: The first element of the "development" section is this "proof of concept" test, which offers an early look at a scene that's a combination of effects and storyboards.
Live Action Backplate Test: This is an early test of the combination of effects and real backgrounds. Again, a short clip, lasting a little less than a minute.
Early Presentation Reel: This is a combination of storyboards and paintings of the characters; generally seems like it was done to give Disney a greater idea of the kind of visual look and scope that the final picture would have.
Presentation Reel: With this reel, there is more shots of completed effects. It's also set-up somewhat like a rough trailer.
Visual Development: This is an additional gallery of images from the development process.
Also On This Menu: If you look in the development menu, there is a little dino logo towards the bottom of the screen. Clicking it brings up an old clip from a Disney documentary talking about the begining of animation.
Creating The Characters:
Designing The Dinosaurs: This is a 7 1/2 minute featurette, which offers interviews with the main animation staff of the film, who discuss some of the technical challenges and obstacles that had to be done in order to design characters and achieve the "look" they wanted the various characters to have.
Building The Dinosaurs: This is an additional 7 1/2 featurette that takes a look at how the characters would work and if their actions and mannerisms would look realistic and natural. We watch the animators slightly fix and re-define the characters through effects and models.
Character Design: Visual galleries for "Aladar Design", "Aladar Turnaround", "Kron Design" and "Kron Turnaround" as well as "Neera Design" and "Neera Turnaround". There are also "design" and "turnaround" sections for "Bruton", "Baylene", "Eema", "Uri", "Carnotaurs" and "Velociraptors". In addition, galleries for "The Herd" and "Unused Character Designs" are available. The "turnarounds" are 360 degree spins around a still image of the character.
Hidden Feature: There's another dino logo in the main menu for Creating The Characters, and clicking on it brings up a reel of "outtakes" - with this kind of animation, there's occasionally some errors that happen (due to the wrong key hit, I suppose) that messes up the animation. Some of the clips are rather interesting to see.
Building The Lemurs: This is a 7 minute featurette that takes the viewer through the conceptual stages of how the lemur characters were going to look - as with Disney, "the cuter the better" was probably the goal.
Also: There is a preliminary lemur design art gallery, along with galleries and "turnarounds" for "Pilo", "Yar", "Zini" and "Suri".
Hidden Feature: In the main menu of the production process section, click on the little dinosaur logo for an old Disney clip about Dinosaurs.
Creating A Prehistoric World: This is a very interesting featurette; where the previous featurettes took a bit more of a general look at the characters, this featurette takes a more in-depth look at the production process, from planning out a scene to capturing the locations to going through the rough sketches and animation. Most fascinating is a tool that the visual effects supervisors can use on the actual location called a "3D workbook" where they can look at the basic animation. There's also other fascinating tools that were brought into the "Dinosaur" production process, with a camera that can race down wires to re-create the look of a dinosaur running. The featurette runs 8 minutes.
The Monster Cloud: This is a featurette that takes a further look at the meteor shower that rains down upon the characters early in the movie. There's a massive amount of effects and layers that went into this scene alone, and the featurette takes the viewer through every detail of the fascinating process that went into this scene alone. This featurette is 4 minutes.
Dino Cam: The visual effects supervisor provides a commentary for this progession demonstration looking at the "Dino Cam" - the camera that can be run down a wire to give the impression of a dinosaur running - and then shows the elements that are added in at every step towards the final scene.
Aladar Joins The Herd: This is a production progession demonstration which allows the viewer to use the "angle" button on the remote to switch from the story reel to the 3d workbook to the final film. Or, comparisons can show the differences between the story reel to the final film and the 3D workbook to final film.
Production Progression: Reels that show the progression between the various steps for "Opening Sequence", "Aladar Meets The Misfits" and "Aladar Finds Water".
Music and Sound:
Music: This is a featurette that talks about where the filmmakers wanted to take the musical score, from the feel of James Newton Howard's score to how it adds to the film and what role it has in scenes. A shorter featurette, this is only about 3 minutes in length.
Sound Design: Being someone who is very interested in sound, I found this featurette on the film's sound design to be interesting. It talks about how various sounds were captured from actual animals to use throughout "Dinosaur". There is also some interviews with the actors on how they got into the "sounds" of their characters and a look at how the foley artists use other items to create the various creature sounds that the characters make in "Dinosaur". The film's supervising sound editor was Frank Eulner, who has also worked on films such as "The Haunting" and "The Horse Whisperer".
Audio Mix Demonstration: A similar feature was included in the special edition for "Toy Story", where viewers can watch a scene (in this case, "The Monster Cloud" scene) and choose to either watch with "Dialogue", "Music" or "Effects".
Deleted Scenes: There are 6 deleted scenes included; "The River Crossing", "The Grandparents Parish", "Struggle For A Resting Place", "Bruton & Lieutenants Attacked", "Death On The Trail" and "Old Gotoma". These scenes are in rough format, but are interesting to watch to see some of the early story ideas.
Hidden Feature: Clicking on the dino logo in the publicity menu brings up an animated short called "Recycle Rex".
Trailers: 3 Trailers for the movie (trailer 1 & 2 + a "convention" trailer) in Dolby 2.0. It would have been nice if these trailers were presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, as I believe the "trailer 1" had been included on a previous Disney animated disc in Dolby Digital 5.1 audio.
TV Spots: 4 TV Spots.
Publicity Gallery: A still image gallery of the various elements used in the marketing/advertising campaign for "Dinosaur".
Also: If you click on the "Staff Meeting" post-it note in the bottom corner of the main menu on the second disc, you'll find a complete list of DVD Production Credits.
Positive: The image quality is absolutely stunning; the direct-from-digital presentation is flawless. The sound is generally very good, too and there's a lot of extras packed onto the 2 DVDs. Where some complained (rather rightly) that the extras on discs like the "Tarzan" DVD were mainly "promotional" in nature, the featurettes that Disney offer here are very informative towards specific topics and well-produced overall. Other things appreciatedare the fact that Disney has released both the special and regular editions at the same time rather than releasing the special edition later like they have been. Also, they've included a DTS version of the audio; although there isn't much difference between DTS and Dolby in this instance, it's nice to have the choice.
Negative: The film's story is a bit thin, although the "Dinosaur" is so visually marvelous that it often carried me, at least, through the otherwise weak parts. Fans of the film who want to learn more about the effects and how the film was made will enjoy this special edition - although it's a bit much at $39.99 retail, if you can find it for less it's certainly worth picking up. Others may be more satisfyed with the regular edition.