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Stop me when this story description sounds familiar. We've got a family-friendly animated film about talking dinosaurs living in a tropical paradise. One day, a natural disaster destroys their home and forces the young hero and his family to trudge across a harsh landscape in search of a promised land of salvation that's been spared the devastation, avoiding fearsome predators along the way. Hey, you say, that's the perennial kiddie favorite The Land Before Time or one of its myriad sequels, right? Sorry, no, I'm actually talking about Disney's 2000 CGI/live action feature Dinosaur, though to be blunt it might as well have been titled The Land Before Time Redux for as shamelessly as it recycles Don Bluth's 1988 film.
In essence, Dinosaur is an effective encapsulation of everything that's gone wrong with Walt Disney animation for the past decade. The focus of the production is all on its technical execution at the expense of fundamentals like story or character. To give it some credit, the movie does have an intriguing design, a blend of nearly photorealistic computer animation with live action sets and backgrounds shot on High Definition video. At its best, the film offers some razzle dazzle eye candy, giving us convincing dinosaurs interacting with the very real environment around them. Things start off really well, as we're introduced to the main character still in unhatched egg form dislodged from his nest and transported creature-to-creature across the prehistoric landscape in an amusing Rube Goldberg chain of events. Eventually he's dropped into the laps of a community of tiny mammals who will raise this misplaced outcast Tarzan-style. The sequence is quite impressive and gives us a good sense of the filmmakers' ambitions. Unfortunately, as soon as the animals start talking at its conclusion we realize that the whole thing has just come crashing down.
It's not just that the story is a knock-off of a previous animated hit. Even getting past that problem, the movie just isn't particularly good. The picture is populated with stock Disney characters and familiar plot devices. It has the requisite valuable lessons for the kiddies shoehorned in, such as the importance of teamwork and learning compassion for the weaker members of the herd. It's all just so familiar and rote, obviously written by a committee and having no distinctive voice of its own. The heroes are cute but bland, the dialogue is unmemorable, and the attempts at humor are so lame even very young children will groan at them.
Dinosaur is all style over substance. During a select few scenes, especially the gorgeously apocalyptic meteor crash that spurs the main plot into action, it delivers the moments of awe that the trailers promised. Young children have an inherent fascination with dinosaurs, and that may be enough to keep undemanding ones interested. For the majority of its 82-minute length, however, it's just a tedious chore to sit through, and I doubt the film will have the repeat viewing potential of the best animated classics.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Dinosaur debuts on the Blu-ray format courtesy of Walt Disney Home Entertainment. Disney has chosen to package all of their Blu-rays with ugly silver swoosh borders cutting into the artwork. The cases also have annoying lock-tabs on the side for no particular reason.
Even more irritating is that the disc has no main menu screen, just Blu-ray pop-up menus accessible while the movie plays. This becomes an issue during the initial set-up if you wish to change your audio or subtitle options. Since the pop-up menus don't work while the movie is paused, you have no choice but to navigate through all the menus while the beginning of the movie plays beneath them, and then skip back to the start of the chapter when you're done. The interface is far from user friendly.
Blu-ray discs are only playable in a compatible Blu-ray player. They will not function in a standard DVD player or in an HD DVD player. Please note that the star rating scales for video and audio are relative to other High Definition disc content, not to traditional DVD.
The Dinosaur Blu-ray is encoded in High Definition 1080p format using MPEG2 compression on a single-layer 25 gb disc. The movie is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 with tiny letterbox bars at the top and bottom of the 16:9 frame.
The movie was designed as digital eye candy, but the Blu-ray disc is far from impressive. The picture is soft, flat, and dull. Colors are bland and uninspiring. The contrast range is weak, with shallow blacks and dull whites. Some of the softness may have been intentional to blend the animation with the live action backgrounds, but the image just looks excessively filtered. Some shots are so fuzzy it's like they've been smeared with Vaseline. Detail and texture are extremely poor, and there's no sense of depth at all. There's also a faint but persistent appearance of grain throughout the movie, which I would think unlikely for an all-digital production, so I have to imagine is at least partly the fault of the disc's compression quality. Not only is the disc underwhelming as High Definition, it looks mediocre even by regular DVD standards.
The Dinosaur Blu-ray disc is not flagged with an Image Constraint Token and will play in full High Definition quality over a Blu-ray player's analog Component Video outputs.
The movie's soundtrack is provided in your choice of standard Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, or uncompressed PCM 5.1 formats. The PCM track is even encoded at the high 24-bit/48kHz resolution (most "uncompressed" and lossless audio tracks are downconverted to 16-bit resolution). Those are some very impressive specs, and you'd think with all of those options at least one of them would sound pretty good. Sadly, not so much. I had a hard time telling any of the three tracks apart from one another. They all have nice swell to the music, but sound effects are simply not very crisp and bass is wimpy. Dialogue sounds just OK, and the lip flap animation sync is pretty sloppy. The mix has a fair sense of directionality but is not terribly aggressive with surround usage, even during the big action scenes. I wanted so much more from this soundtrack, but like the video it disappoints.
Subs & Dubs:
Optional subtitles – English captions for the hearing impaired, French, or Spanish.
Alternate language tracks - French DD 5.1 or Spanish DD 5.1.
The disc automatically opens with a lengthy Blu-ray promo that can fortunately be skipped but is a nuisance. The first couple of bonus features are recycled from the DVD edition. The VFX piece is presented in Standard Definition video with MPEG2 compression.
- Audio Commentary - Co-directors Ralph Zondag & Eric Leighton, digital effects supervisor Neil Eskuri, and visual effects supervisor Neil Krepela contribute to a very fast-paced, extremely technical commentary focusing on the digital animation techniques. Adults may find the track interesting, but children will bore quickly.
- The Monster Cloud (4 min.) – A visual effects featurette on the making of the meteor crash sequence.
- Blu-Scape: Origins (6 min.) – One in a series of new High-Definition short films by Louie Schwartzberg (director of the fluffy America's Heart & Soul documentary), Origins is comprised of a few minutes of sweeping aerial travelogue footage of mountains, geysers, and other natural wonders set to a muzak score. It's rather boring, and the High Definition video is very poorly compressed, with serious blockiness and mosquito noise artifacts.
- Movie Showcase - An especially worthless feature, all this showcase does is isolate three scenes from the movie that I suppose are meant to be the most visually impressive for independent playback. That's all there is to it.
Undemanding young viewers may find Dinosaur watchable, but adults will be bored through much of it, despite the interesting visual design. For that matter, the Blu-ray disc edition is pretty unimpressive in video, audio, or bonus features. There's just not a whole lot to recommend here. Reserve this one for a rental at most.