While the main characters in Dinosaur are computer-animated, most of the film's backgrounds were filmed on location. A number of backgrounds were found in Canaima National Park in Venezuela; various tepuis and Angel Falls also appear in the film.
The film opens with an Iguanodon mother forced to abandon her nest, with only one egg surviving a Carnotaurus attack. The egg eventually ends up in a forest inhabited by lemurs, who see the egg hatch, name the baby dinosaur Aladar, and raise him as their own. When Aladar is an adult, the island is destroyed when an asteroid crashes on Earth, causing a meteor shower, with only Aladar, his grandfather Yar, his mother Plio, his best friend Zini and his sister Suri surviving the destruction of the island by swimming to the mainland.
After fleeing a pack of Velociraptor, the family meets a multi-species herd of dinosaurs (consisting of a bunch of Iguanodon, Styracosaurus, Pachyrhinosaurus, Stygimoloch, Microceratops, Parasaurolophus, and Struthiomimus) led by the Iguanodon Kron and his lieutenant Bruton, who are on a journey to reach the "Nesting Grounds", a valley believed to be untouched by the devastation of the asteroid impact. Aladar and the lemurs befriend a trio of elderly dinosaurs: Baylene the Brachiosaurus, Eema the Styracosaurus, and Url, Eema's dog-like pet Ankylosaurus. Aladar also develops romantic feelings for Kron's sister Neera, but she appears uninterested. Meanwhile, the Velociraptor pack continues to follow them, but are scared off when a pair of Carnotaurus also pick up the herd's trail.
The herd arrives at a lake they’ve relied on for past trips, but it has dried up. Aladar saves the herd from dehydration when he and Baylene eventually dig up the trapped water beneath the ground. Aladar and Neera eventually fall in love after Neera sees Aladar helping the dinosaurs (especially the elderly ones) survive. However, Bruton, having been sent by Kron to find water upon arrival at the lake, returns injured by the Carnotaurus which killed another Iguanodon that was scouting with him. Kron evacuates the herd from the lake bed in a rush, leaving Aladar, the lemurs, the elderly dinosaurs, and the injured Bruton behind. When Aladar tries to slow the herd, Kron pushes him away and warns Aladar that he will kill him if he interferes Kron's leadership again. Neera wants to help Aladar but Kron forces Neera to leave him.
The small group recuperates in a cave during a rainstorm, with Bruton eventually befriending them. When the Carnotaurus pair attacks, Bruton proves his loyalty when he holds them off to ensure their escape and kills one of them as the others escape to the depths of the caves, dying in the process. Badly injured, one of the Carnotaurus escapes, enraged by the death of its mate but unable to follow the group. Upon reaching a dead end, Aladar begins to lose hope, after repeated failures and the loss of Bruton. However, Zini smells fresh air, and finds the dead end to actually be a blocked exit that is hard to break down. His friends all join in breaking down the barrier, stabilizing his confidence. Finally, Baylene demolishes the wall. The exit actually leads to the "Nesting Grounds", although Eema sees that the old entrance – where the herd has gathered on the other side – has been blocked by a landslide generated by the meteors.
Aladar rushes to find the herd on the other side, accidentally alerting and being tracked by the Carnotaurus. He finds the herd being directed by Kron to climb the rocks, which can't be passed without fatality, but when he suggests the alternate route he found, Kron becomes enraged at his authority being questioned and challenged, and attempts to kill Aladar to try and take back his leadership. Aladar is outclassed by Kron, who only stops short of killing Aladar when Neera, tired of her brother's illogical beliefs, strikes him down and defends Aladar. Aladar and Neera take control of the herd, but Kron refuses to submit to the leadership of another and begins climbing the rocks himself.
The Carnotaurus then confronts them, but Aladar rallies the herd to drive it off by standing together and scaring it off with intimidation. The Carnotaurus leaves the herd alone, but spots Kron alone and sensing easier prey, charges Kron as he tries climbing the rocks alone, and is followed by Neera and Aladar. In the ensuing fight, Kron is trapped at the edge of a sheer drop and severely wounded by the Carnotaurus, but Aladar is able to push the predator off a cliff to its death. Kron, however, succumbs to his injuries and dies with Aladar and Neera at his side.
Aladar and Neera lead the herd back to the "Nesting Grounds" through the cave, where the two eventually mate and have children, and the lemurs find more of their own kind. Plio narrates the ending, wishing for their story to be remembered in history. She then says, "But one thing is for sure. Our journey is not over, we can only hope in some small way our time here will be remembered".
Cast and characters
- D. B. Sweeney as Aladar, a brave and compassionate Iguanodon who has been adopted into a family of lemurs and does what he can to make sure that the old and weak aren't left behind during the herd's migration. He is the adoptive son of Plio, as well as the adoptive grandson of Yar, the adoptive brother of Suri and the adoptive nephew of Zini.
- Ossie Davis as Yar, a lemur patriarch whose occasional gruff demeanor is just a front covering his more compassionate interior. He is the father of Plio and Zini, the grandfather of Suri, and the adoptive grandfather of Aladar.
- Alfre Woodard as Plio, a lemur matriarch who cares for her family. She's the daughter of Yar, the mother of Suri, the older sister of Zini and the adoptive mother of Aladar.
- Max Casella as Zini, Aladar's best friend and wisecracking sidekick. He is also the adoptive uncle of Aladar, the uncle of Suri, the younger brother of Plio and the son of Yar.
- Hayden Panettiere as Suri, Aladar's adoptive sister, Plio's daughter, Zini's niece and Yar's granddaughter.
- Samuel E. Wright as Kron, an Iguanodon leading a herd of dinosaur survivors who is characterized by a strict adherence to social Darwinism. He believes in survival of the fittest, which repeatedly clashes with Aladar's compassionate manner.
- Peter Siragusa as Bruton, Kron's domineering second-in-command. He is betrayed and left for dead by Kron, and ultimately gives his life to kill one of the Carnotaurus to save Aladar, the lemurs, and the weaker dinosaurs.
- Julianna Margulies as Neera, Kron's sister, who ends up falling in love with Aladar because of his compassionate ways.
- Joan Plowright as Baylene, an elderly and dainty Brachiosaurus, who is the last of her species.
- Della Reese as Eema, a wizened, elderly and slow-moving Styracosaurus, and has a pet Ankylosaurus named Url.
- Frank Welker as the dinosaurs who don't speak including, the Carnotaurus, the Velociraptor, Url and other dinosaurs.
While a dinosaur-related computer-animated film had been contemplated for over a decade, the film finally went into production when it did, as "the technology to produce the stunning visual effects" had come about - a few years before Dinosaur's eventual release in 2000. The CGI effects are coupled with "real-world backdrops to create a 'photo-realistic' look". The crew went all around the world, in order to "record dramatic nature backgrounds" for the film, which were then "blended with the computer-animated dinosaurs". Disney said that the over-$100 million visual effects "make the film an 'instant classic'".
The concept for the film was originally conceived by Paul Verhoeven and Phil Tippett in 1988 and was pitched as a stop-motion animated film with the title Dinosaurs. The film's original main protagonist was a Styracosaurus and the main antagonist was originally a Tyrannosaurus rex. The film was originally going to be much darker and violent in tone and would end with the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event, which would ultimately result in the deaths of the film's characters. Paul Verhoeven and Phil Tippett pitched the idea to Disney, only to have the idea for the film shelved away with the onset of the Disney Renaissance until the mid-1990s. The film was originally supposed to have no dialogue at all, in part to differentiate the film from The Land Before Time with which Dinosaur shares plot similarities. Michael Eisner insisted that the film have dialogue in order to make it more "commercially viable". A similar change was also made early in the production of The Land Before Time, which was originally intended to feature only the voice of a narrator.
The film's score was composed by James Newton Howard. Pop singer/songwriter Kate Bush reportedly wrote and recorded a song for the film but due to complications the track was ultimately not included on the soundtrack. According to HomeGround, a Kate Bush fanzine, it was scrapped when Disney asked Bush to rewrite the song and Bush refused; however, according to Disney, the song was cut from the film when preview audiences did not respond well to the track. In Asia, pop singer Jacky Cheung's song Something Only Love Can Do, with versions sung in English, Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese, was adopted as the theme song for the film.
The Countdown to Extinction attraction at the Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park, was renamed and re-themed to the movie. It is now known as DINOSAUR. The storyline was always intended to tie in with the movie, considering the usage of a Carnotaurus as the ride's antagonist and Aladar as the Iguanodon that guests rescue from the meteor and take back into the present, seen wandering the Dino Institute in Security Camera footage seen on monitors in the attraction's unloading area.
George Scribner was the original director of the film. Scribner spent two years on it and left to join Walt Disney Imagineering. But fundamentally, the story was pretty much the same after he left.
Though Eric Leighton, one of the directors, spoke about his team "want[ing] to learn as much about dinosaurs as possible", he also admitted that they would "cheat like hell" because they were not creating a documentary. A Disney press kit revealed that the film "intentionally veers from scientific fact in certain aspects". In reality, the film cheated in multiple ways in regard to: how the "dinosaurs are depicted" and how they "are presented in an evolutionary context".
Dinosaur combines the use of live-action backgrounds with computer animation of prehistoric creatures, notably the titular dinosaurs, produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation's Computer Graphics Unit that was later merged with Dream Quest Images to create Disney's The Secret Lab department.
Vision Crew Unlimited provided the live-action special visual effects.
Following in the footsteps of The Lion King, Disney advertised the film by "releasing the opening scene as a trailer". The EmpireOnline project Your Guide To Disney's 50 Animated Features described this as a "smart move" because "taken by itself, the prelude to Dinosaur is an extraordinary achievement (still impressive now), showing a verdant and vibrant world teeming with darn convincing dinosaurs".
The soundtrack album was composed by James Newton Howard, and was released by Walt Disney Records.
- Inner Sanctum/The Nesting Grounds (2:57)
- The Egg Travels (2:43)
- Aladar & Neera (3:29)
- The Courtship (4:13)
- The End Of Our Island (4:00)
- They're All Gone (2:08)
- Raptors/Stand Together (5:37)
- Across The Desert (2:25)
- Finding Water (4:14)
- The Cave (3:40)
- The Carnotaur Attack (3:52)
- Neera Rescues The Orphans (1:13)
- Breakout (2:43)
- It Comes With A Pool (3:01)
- Kron & Aladar Fight (2:58)
- Epilogue (2:32)
The German release has as track 2 the song "Can Somebody Tell Me Who I Am" (4:14), performed by Orange Blue while the UK/Ireland release has as track 1 the song "High Hopes (8:32), performed by Pink Floyd; all the score tracks included above are on both German and UK/Ireland releases.
Dinosaur received generally favorable reviews from critics. The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 65% of critics gave the film positive reviews, based on 122 reviews (79 "Fresh" and 43 "Rotten"); with an average score of 6.2/10. The consensus on the site was: "While Dinosaur's plot is generic and dull, its stunning computer animation and detailed backgrounds are enough to make it worth a look." Roger Ebert gave the film three stars out of four praising the film's "amazing visuals" but criticizing the decision to make the animals talk, which he felt cancelled out the effort to make the film so realistic. "An enormous effort had been spent on making these dinosaurs seem real, and then an even greater effort was spent on undermining the illusion" was his final consensus. The overall rating of Dinosaur on Metacritic from critics is 56%, with 15 critics giving positive reviews, 12 giving mixed reviews, and 5 giving negative reviews.
The lemurs depicted in the movie strongly resemble the sub-species Verreaux's sifaka. Biologists have raised concerns that the movie is misleading and could potentially confuse people, as it suggests lemurs (in their present evolved state) co-existed with dinosaurs over 66 million years ago. All modern strepsirrhines including lemurs are traditionally thought to have evolved from 'primitive' primates known as adapiforms during the Eocene (56 to 34 mya) or Paleocene (66 to 56 mya).
In an analysis of the film, done as part of EmpireOnline's Your Guide To Disney's 50 Animated Features, on the opening sequence it said "much of the scenery is skilfully-composited live-action, including shots of the tepui mountains that would captivate Up's Carl Fredricksen". However, it spoke negatively about the unrealistic talking dinosaurs after the opening, describing it as a "nose-dive". It said they "sound[ed] more like mallrats than terrible lizards" and that although no-one knows what dinosaurs sound like, they definitely don't sound like that. It also disliked how the meteor hit Earth in Act 1, making the majority of the film set "in gray gravel-pits rather than the lush landscapes we were sold". It said "the animals [are] cute enough, but the script, characters and dino-action are all plodding kiddie fare", but added these faults are made up through "James Newton Howard's majestic score". It cited similarities to the 1988 dinosaur-themed Don Bluth film "The Land Before Time", and the more successful prehistoric Blue Sky Studios film Ice Age (which it described as "sassier"), and added that the "images of desperately migrating dinosaurs hark back to the far greater Fantasia". The film was also deemed "inferior" to the work of Pixar.
Dinosaur was a box-office success. It opened at #1 making $38,854,851 in its first weekend from 3,257 theaters, for an average of $11,929 per theater. It had a final gross of $137,748,063 domestically which covered its production costs. The film was eventually accepted overseas earning $212,074,702 for a worldwide take of $349,822,765. The official teaser trailer to this movie accompanied 102 Dalmatians and the trailer of The Emperor's New Groove
Dinosaur was released on VHS and DVD on January 30, 2001. It was re-released on VHS in 2002. It was released on Blu-ray on September 19, 2006. It was re-released on Blu-Ray on February 8, 2011. A Blu-ray 3D release has not been announced yet.
Disney Interactive released a tie-in video game on the Dreamcast, PlayStation, PC and Game Boy Color in 2000. To promote the release of Dinosaur, the Disney theme park ride "Countdown to Extinction" was renamed "DINOSAUR", and its plot, which had always prominently featured a Carnotaurus and an Iguanadon, was mildly altered so that the Iguanadon is specifically meant to be Aladar, the protagonist of the movie, and the plot of the ride is now about a human scientist travelling through time to a point just before the impact of the meteor which caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, to bring Aladar back to the present and save his life.