Enkomputiligis Don HARLOW


by Thom Enriquez and Walon Green

reviewed by Don Harlow

For a Disney late-spring animated feature, Dinosaur isn't quite the film that Mulan was two years ago, but it's better than last year's Tarzan, I think, and the techniques for superimposing three-dimensional computer animation on live backgrounds are ... well, technically breathaking; they give me a lot of hope for the forthcoming (in a year and a half) release of The Fellowship of the Ring.

The story is fairly simplistic, not unsuitable for an hour and a half. A kidnapped herbivosaur egg is dropped on an island right into a clan of mammalian lemuroids, who adopt the new baby dinosaur, naming it Aladar (voice of D. B. Sweeney). Some years later, a cosmic event -- the fall of a massive meteor (but not the later eco-killer that destroyed the dinosaurs completely) -- renders the island uninhabitable, and forces Aladar to return to the mainland with four surviving lemuroids, where he falls in with a mass heterogeneous migration of surviving dinosaurs making for their paradisical nesting grounds. Most of the story has to do with the dinosaur trek across a devastated landscape (shades of Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring" in Disney's original Fantasia!), and the growing competition between the dinosaur leader Kron (Samuel E. Wright), a thoroughgoing traditional Darwinist, and Aladar, whose insistence (ultimately justified) on the value of cooperation would put him squarely in the Marx-Engels camp. (1) There are numerous crises -- the disappearance of a crucial waterhole in mid-desert, a pair of very hungry carnivosaurs trailing along behind, a rockfall blocking the entrance to the nesting grounds -- but ultimately Aladar manages, with a little help from his friends, to overcome them all.

One common criticism of this film is that its makers impose human intelligence and human values on creatures which could not have shared these. Aside from the fact that we know very little about the intelligence levels and values of the creatures that existed sixty million years ago -- an intelligent dinosaur and an intelligent lemuroid are not strict impossibilities! -- the pathetic fallacy has been a staple of animation since at least Disney's Steamboat Willie; let's not criticize something that is so traditional in such films, and without which they probably wouldn't be worth seeing.

I do have some technical criticisms. Most particularly, these relate -- as is common in dinosaur films -- to the mixing of different eras. While (pace traditional concepts of evolution) mammals apparently coexisted with dinosaurs during a significant part of the age of dinosaurs, the lemuroids of the film are considerably more advanced than the tiny insectivores that made up the mammal population shortly after the end of the dinosaur age. Well, perhaps the more advanced and massive mammals of the time disappeared with the dinosaurs; the catastrophe that wiped out the dinosaurs wasn't particularly discriminating in what it annihilated. Worse, though, was the live background flora, mostly twentieth century stuff (particularly grass) on which the dinosaurs were superimposed; grass, for instance, is a more recent development (at one time it was hypothesized that the dinosaurs disappeared because they depended on a food chain whose lowest mobile level was wiped out by the replacement of traditional ground cover with grass [2]). But these are relatively minor kvetches.

Was it a good film? If you like advances in film technology, don't demand much meat in your plot, and have some small children along, yes, it was an excellent film. I'm not sorry I went to see it. Whether I will see it again is another question. Maybe I'll just watch Mulan again instead.


(1) Kron's "Darwinism" is not a recognition of the kinematic process of evolution, but a near-religious belief in the value of the so-far unproven concept of "survival of the fittest" as the driving force behind evolution. From his point of view, if the lame and the halt fall behind, they deserve to be gobbled up by whatever is following along behind to scavenge.
(2) The dinosaur-killer asteroid so popular in recent years put paid to a large number of different theories about dinosaur disappearance. I particularly liked the one put forward by science-fiction author George O. Smith. Smith suggested that, because of the relative slowness of nerve impulses, the dinosaur hind-brain, which apparently controlled the animal's rear legs, was incapable of receiving warning signals from the forebrain, which controlled the eyes, quickly enough to prevent the animal from running over a suddenly-encountered cliff. So all the dinosaurs fell off cliffs, and in this way the various dinosaur species disappeared. This, of course, does not explain the disappearance of species such as plesiosaurs and ichthyosaurs, which lived in the ocean...

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