Let me tell you about Dino-Riders. It is f*cking amazing.
There are dinosaurs with freaking laser beams attached to their heads. I’m not lying. Produced in 1988, Dino-Riders was a TV show that (exactly like Transformers) existed to sell toys. What kind of toys exactly? Have a look:
Oh and in case you’re wondering what the heck is riding the dinosaurs? Let me tell you:
So the basic premise is this: good-guy humans and bad-guy aliens end up back in time (or on some other planet – who cares?) with dinosaurs. They attach weapons to those dinosaurs and proceed to beat the crap out of each other. This makes the ridiculousness of Jurassic World look like a serious drama.
It is smart: absolutely not. Well, I shouldn’t say that with such certainty. I only ever watched two episodes of the show as a kid a long time ago… but I remember nothing about it besides “good guy is good, bad guy is bad – DINOSAURS.” Yet what needs brains to make a lot of money.
Really, ever since Transformers emerged as a blockbuster juggernaut (again – points for movies that make no sense), Dino-Riders should have been a no-brainer. Well, I’m happy to report that Hollywood might have finally realized what they’re sitting on.
Dinosaurs are awesome. From their initial scientific discovery back in 1824, dinosaurs have captivated human imagination. The idea of an entirely different ecosystem, filled with fantastic creatures, that lasted millions of years has rightly secured a place in our collective cultural imagination. Dinosaurs lived on Earth, they were real. Yet somehow their world was almost completely alien. It is only natural that such creatures occupy a place in cinema as well, one of the few ways dinosaurs can actually still “come to life.” Yet when they are reborn, just how glorious is it? This article will look at three of the more major family-oriented dinosaur films over the past thirty years. Cinema has presented the complex world of the dinosaurs as brutal, harsh, and in some cases completely childish.
1. The Land Before Time (1988)
Oh course if we’re talking kid-friendly dinosaurs, we gotta talk Littlefoot and The Land Before Time. Steven Spielberg came up for the idea of this film, and he and his collaborator George Lucas had an interesting idea: no talking. Like Fantasia, The Land Before Time was originally envisioned as a silent film with no strong plot to drive it forward. Instead, it would simply tell the story of five young dinosaurs growing up. An interesting idea but Universal felt the film needed more appeal. Dialogue was added to help the audience relate to the characters and the dinosaurs were anthropomorphized (given human characteristics) to make them relatable. Did this detract from the science of the film, of course. Yet I highlight Land Before Time as an example of pandering done right. Was the film made more kid-friendly: yes, but that did not stop it from portraying the tragic nature of survival:
Now obviously the science in The Land Before Time is woefully outdated today, but at the time this was really well done. The decision to make the film easier to follow did not cripple it, or take away from its educational aspects. Let’s move on:
2. Dinosaur (2000)
Ready for déjà vu? When Dinosaur was first conceived, it was going to be a harsh story set at the end of the dinosaur era, with no dialogue. Instead of Universal, Disney CEO Michael Eisner was the one to make the call to make the film lighter and to add dialogue. Did lightning strike twice, as with The Land Before Time? It did not. Sadly Dinosaur became a very generic story with ideas and plot basically carbon-copied from the Land Before Time. The Great Valley became the Nesting Grounds, Sharptooth became a Carnotaurus, Littlefoot’s band of friends got replaced with another band of less interesting friends… the movie thoroughly existed without braving anything new. What makes it worse is that the science was lacking this time around. Not trusting its saurian stars, Disney added present-day lemurs to the cast. Bizarre. The initial trailer revealing Dinosaur‘s visual splendor remains the highlight of this theatrical endeavor:
An intriguing idea that turned into just another movie. Still, it can get worse.
3.Walking With Dinosaurs (2013)
When Walking with Dinosaurs first debuted as a show in 1999, it was heralded as a state-of-the-art dinosaur experience. For any out there curious to learn about the world before our own, this show was a good start. Fast-forward fourteen years… and you’re better off going with the show. Walking with Dinosaurs 3D is as brainless as its name sounds. Starting off as (say it with me now) a film with no dialogue, Studio interference once again turned the tale kid-friendly. This time, however, it appears that production was further along. All the dialogue is merely “thoughts” meaning that there is no animation for the dinosaurs speaking. This was supposedly done to keep it accurate, but my title was inspired from this movie. Talk about taking out intelligence with the lame excuse of “it’s for kids.” Which kids, I wonder? I do not think of myself as a child prodigy, but if I saw this film at six… I am pretty sure I still would have found it dumb. Using a name that brings to mind intelligence (courtesy of the original series) Walking with Dinosaurs has maybe one or two nuggets of education within its short (but still too long) 88 minute run time. Couple with that, this was a film made in 2013. Our understanding of dinosaurs has changed drastically in the past twenty years and Walking with Dinosaurs reflects none of that.
There is a definite pattern here. It seems like no theatrical dinosaur movie will ever see the light of day without first being tailored down for audiences. Is this overly tragic: not really since the information can be found elsewhere. It is simply said that “for the children” is used as an excuse to make things dumber. Oh it is for the next generation? Yeah, they don’t need to know facts.
The other trouble is that the (currently known) world of dinosaurs is more fascinating than Hollywood makes it out to be. These creatures probably never even looked like the giant lizards we see on-screen, but that is how we still see them. Maybe the future will hold a smart dinosaur film that is “for adults”…
Everyone has that movie – you know the one I’m talking about. You watched it over and over again as a kid, loving every minute of it… and then you grew up. Said movie disappeared, either sold at a yard sale or recorded over (talking some VHS nonsense here) or just plain lost. Years passed and you forgot that this piece of your childhood ever existed, until one day it’s mentioned at a party or you see a clip on Youtube or flipping channels. Then it’s a joyful act of rediscovery! Right?
… Not always.
We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story was that type of movie for me. I loved it to pieces as a kid. This is the movie that came out in 1993 alongside Jurassic Park… but was more for the kiddies (not that we all didn’t watch Jurassic Park anyway – cause f*ck the police). As a young boy, I couldn’t get enough of this movie. There was a talking T-Rex, hot dog-eating dinosaurs, a wish radio… an evil screw-eyed professor (with an actual screw for an eye)… dancing dinosaurs on the streets of New York…
What the f*ck am I watching?
Yes, We’re Back! is incredibly creative, which is probably one of the things that made it so appealing to children – that and dinosaurs. Watching the film today, however, is a different experience all together. Is it still creative? Sure – but let’s get to the plot.
Okay so the movie opens with young birds in a nest. One of the birds is getting picked on by his siblings and wants to leave the nest (he’s going to run away and join the circus – a logical career move for a bird). Out he goes onto a branch and, regrettably, it’s not long before he topples off. But that’s okay because he’s saved by Rex (voiced by none other than John Goodman), a dinosaur who’s playing golf.
No no, we’re nowhere near strange yet. Anyway, so John Goodrex has some advice for the would-be run away. He tells him the story of another little boy who ran away to join the circus. But of course, he can’t start the story without explaining a couple of big questions – how did he get to present day New York and why is he so smart?
Are you ready for this?
Okay, so Rex was your average dumb T-Rex. He ran, ate other dinosaurs – all that good jazz. Then his alien named Vorb (voiced by Jay Leno) comes down and snatches him up into this flying ship thing. Vorb gives him “Brain Grain,” a breakfast cereal designed to make him smarter! It also makes him look more cuddly and gives him the ability to talk! Shortly thereafter, Rex is introduced to the other dinosaurs who have been genetically modified. There’s a triceratops, a pterodactyl, and a… an… a duck-billed thing (probably an edmontosaurus). They’ve also been given Brain Grain and now spend their days eating hot dogs… cause why not?
Anyway, that’s the basic introduction. One thing I will mention now (that I never noticed as a kid) is how much the pterodactyl hits on Rex. She seriously has several bizarre lines and seems to get off on him checking out her “wingspan.” Now, I wasn’t there in the days of the dinosaur but… pretty sure the Bible says something against inter-dinosaur romance – check Leviticus.
The Dinosaurs are introduced to Captain Neweyes (voiced by Walter Cronkite – not kidding), the man who invented the Brain Grain and the time-traveling flying spaceship that they’re all on. Captain Neweyes has also invented a “wish radio” that he uses to see what people want. What people want in the 90s is apparently dinosaurs (a way to solve world hunger would have been great too – Captain Neweyes is kind of a jerk when you think about it).
So, the Captain’s plan: bring dinosaurs to modern day New York and then air-drop them into the city. Tell them nothing about the world besides that they have to go to the Museum of Natural History and to avoid his evil brother, Professor Screweyes (a time traveler who uses his amazing technology to run a circus). Sounds like a great plan, what could go wrong?
Oh, right… dinosaurs in New York. Of course, the dinos meet up with two kids who want to go to the circus and get sidetracked with Professor Screweyes. The Professor possesses his own “Brain Drain” that can de-evolve people… why is he just running a circus again?
I won’t spoil the ending… let’s just say it involves a feast for crows.
What a weird movie. Seriously, I can understand an animated movie about dinosaurs. Who doesn’t love The Land Before Time? But… really? Why… everything else?
Turns out this movie is based off a book (so it wasn’t entirely the crazed director’s ideas), but the movie adds in characters like Captain Neweyes and Professor Screweyes.
To be fair, it’s not just the plot that’s strange. The cast is a bizarre collection too. At the time, John Goodman had never done animation before, and Walter Cronkite was never known for voice acting. Oh, Julia Child is in this too as the museum curator. Again: why not?
Is the movie good? It’s… hard to say. You’ll be entertained, I can guarantee that. It sure is creative. If one can ignore all the problems (and there are many) that come with time travel, there is fun to be had. It is an odd movie… a really odd movie, but one with a heart, even if that heart is lusting for inter-dinosaur romance.
What the f*ck am I watching: We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story.
OH – BEST PART: the whole thing is on Youtube. Enjoy!