Note: I had to watch and review this film way out of order. I was already three movies ahead of it when it finally arrived. Because of course the one DVD I was least looking forward to watching in this marathon had to take the longest time to get to me.
Also, there will be swearing in this one too. Lots and lots of swearing. And nerd rage, but if you are familiar with this movie, you probably already guessed that.
Your Too Long, Didn't Read review: "We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story" could be much more accurately retitled, "Things That Make Me Drink: The Movie!" Here goes.
The marketing for "We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story" (henceforth "WBADS") was kind of fascinating. Indeed, I remember it vividly from my early teens after all, it being not only fascinating but downright insulting. Picture this: It's the autumn of 1993. "Jurassic Park" has just thoroughly blown the minds of every dinosaur loving youngster to tiny pieces. Everyone is happy with the film and...
Actually, no. Some people are not happy with the film. Some people are very angry with the film, and no, I do not mean Michael Crichton fans who were mad with all the changes to the story.
I'm talking about everyone's favorite, concerned parents. Yes, there were people who brought their very young children to "Jurassic Park" and were very upset when the whole thing wasn't dinosaurs playing nice with little children.
Now, there are probably a few of you lovely readers out there who are in their early teens and familiar with the Jurassic Park franchise. And you are wondering how in the hell anyone could get that idea. For the benefit of those readers, let me remind you of the other big popular dinosaur-involving franchise from the early '90's. People old enough to have lived through this, brace yourselves:
Yes, there were presumably sensible adults who took their children to "Jurassic Park" expecting something more like "Barney and Friends". Let that sink in.
This probably explains why Amblimaton chose to clarify things and advertise "We're Back!" with the tagline, "Steven Spielberg Presents A Dinosaur Movie for the Whole Family!" Although, now that I have finally seen the beast that is "We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story" in it's entirety, I declare that it is not appropriate for anyone.
Let me tell you how I felt about "We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story". Stand back, kids, and wear your protective eyewear, cause I'm 'bout to unpack my adjectives. We'll start with "terrible" first, then "condescending", "ugly", "annoying", "discordant", "offensive", "Trollicious", "Nightmare Fuel-errific", and finally "really, really bad and dumb". Furthermore, it's really really bad and dumb in ways I hadn't even anticipated. Because you would have no reason whatsoever to expect a big-budget mainstream theatrical animated feature to do things that are as horrible and stupid as the things we see in this movie. I suppose the only reason I survived "WBADS" in one piece is because I had just recently watched all those DTV Disney sequels as well as "An American Tail 2: Fievel Goes West" and "Cool World"; I was already hardened against incredibly sh**ty animated films.
"WBADS" is another bad movie that has a bare-bones DVD release, but needs a more informative one packed with commentaries and special features just so that the creators of the film can explain to us viewers, in so many words, what the f***?!? The film is very, very, very, very, very loosely based upon a well-liked Hudson Talbot children's book of the same title with the simple plot of Mesozoic dinosaurs given the ability to speak and brought to modern-day New York City to live in the Museum of Natural History and bring joy to the all the children of the world. The picture book is cute, charming, very funny, and basically everything it's film adaptation is not. Talbot later wrote a sequel where the dinosaurs are brought to Hollywood to make a movie of their story and... well, more than a few readers have read the main character Rex's frustration as the author's own.
Anyway, something had to be done to pad out the story so that it could be long enough to qualify as a feature. (As an aside, there are two nice things I can say about "WBADS", and the first one is that it is mercifully short and moves very fast. So you are more annoyed than aggravated during the process of watching the damned thing. The aggravation comes when you stop and think about the movie later, but we'll get to that.) Showing the same kind of delicate wisdom displayed by the studio when handling the works of Dr. Seuss, Universal chose to make the story feature-length with highly annoying things on the one hand and utterly bizarre things on the other.
On the highly annoying side, we've got a couple of "cute" "funny" sidekick characters voiced by Jay Leno(???) and Martin Short who are supposed to be helpful to the protagonists but who come across as JarJar-esque nuisances instead. We get a pair of kid characters who end up involved in the dinosaurs' adventure and contribute absolutely nothing to the proceedings aside from suddenly acting creepily like adults for a supposed "romantic" subplot, participating in a "save the day through the Power of Love" scene that the Care Bears would stare incredulously at, and being yet another example of the cowardly assumption that children will not sit still through a movie that hasn't got any characters "just like them" to relate to. (Though these kids do suffer the most trauma of any characters in the story, so that's fun in a "this is the exact opposite reaction the audience is supposed to have" way.) And we have the prologue and epilogue where Rex is telling the entire sequence of events to a baby bird because...? The last thing plays out a little like this:
By the way, according to this movie, kids threatening to run away and join the circus is still a thing kids do in 1993. It's a little thing, but I'm pointing it out because no single element of "WBADS" better sums up it's downright surreal disconnect from reality and sheer WTF-ery.
As for the bizarre things, we have the Brothers Professor (Something)Eyes. Kindly Professor NewEyes is a time traveler who invented a machine that allows him to read people's minds and see their greatest and most intimate wishes (because there's nothing sketchy at all about that). He brings them their hearts' desires. And so he's going to take dinosaurs from the Mesozoic Era, make them cute and cuddly, and bring them to New York City in 1993 to, um, make everyone happy. (Just so you know, in case it isn't clear by now, cute goofy-ass dinosaurs do not make me happy. They make me very upset, in fact.) At no time during this process, does NewEyes inform Rex and company why he needed to go all the way back to the Mesozoic to get nonavian dinosaurs for 1993 New York. Think about it. Ouch.
Now if you are at all paying attention, you will notice how deeply f***ed-up NewEyes and his "plan" is here. Imagine you're sitting around eating lunch and suddenly a time machine appears and this strange-looking creature from the far future captures you. He then feeds you a substance that transforms you, physically and psychologically, into the future's idea of what humans were like. And I say "were", because now he's going to transport you and three other randomly chosen and similarly transformed single specimens of Cenozoic animals millions of years into the future and long past your species' extinctions. Which, incidentally, he doesn't tell you about aside from the mysterious statement, "There are a lot of children from my time that miss you!" For the rest of your life you will be living in a museum, pretending to be a statue except for the brief moments where you are either fed hot dogs or must entertain the children of the future. Wow.
Even so, NewEyes is a sweetheart compared to his brother Professor ScrewEyes. He's our villain for this evening and I'm honestly a little ambivalent about him. He shows up at around the half-hour mark. If you are an adult who has been bored, irritated, and even a little offended by the events so far of "WBADS", he's here to wake you the f**k up.
If you are a child, he's going to provide you with some pure unfiltered nightmare fuel. ScrewEyes and his evil circus arrive right the f**k out of nowhere in what had thus far been a goofy colorful series of hijinks, so his scenes are still genuinely scary and upsetting even though it is pretty obvious that they were edited to hell and back to keep this, you know, "A Dinosaur Movie For the Whole Family". Yeah, keep that tagline in mind while ScrewEyes does his thing.
Incidentally, if you do enjoy weird circuses and horror shows and such, and if you have tattoos and crazy hair and clothes, then according to this movie you are a sad, strange person and you should feel bad, you weirdo freak. God damn this damn movie. It has a little something to p**s off everyone I know!
So let you dear Auntie Tricia tell you the most important reason why this movie made me drink (aside from everything I have mentioned so far): Before NewEyes can bring the dinosaurs to modern NYC, he uses a cereal he invented known as Brain Grain to turn them into what struck me as a bunch of characters who were kicked off the set of "Barney and Friends" for insulting the three-year-old audience's intelligence too much. So help me, Rex looks like Barney himself in everything but color scheme. We are informed that this cereal has made them "smart", and in an offhand line of dialogue, NewEyes notes that Brain Grain has essentially caused world peace in his home time. Living things that eat it will no longer harm each-other. Man, there are some f**ked-up implications there. One is left to wonder if every animal in NewEyes' time has likewise been transformed into a cockamamie depowered cuddly plush toy...
On the other hand, ScrewEyes has invented a Brain Drain pill. We're told it's just an antidote to Brain Grain, but we are specifically not told it turns you into a vicious evil monstrous version of yourself as a side-effect. (There is that scene where the children are forced to take the pills and it transforms them into honestly refreshingly cute -and more importantly quiet- chimpanzees for about a minute and a half, so I don't even know. But again, there are some pretty weird and uncomfortable implications there.) So when Rex and friends take the pills, the glowy-eyed, giant-fanged, screaming, roaring, slavering monsters they become are... Well, those are apparently supposed to be "real" dinosaurs. I wish I was kidding. This is meant to show us what our nonhuman protagonists were like before they got high on Brain Grain. Yup, even the hadrosaur is bloodthirsty. I... I need a beer.
This, ultimately, is why I hate this movie with the white-hot passion of a thousand stars. If you are a dinosaur in the world of this movie, you must either be a vicious primeval murderbeast or a giant toy that's safe to leave the kiddies with. The only thing you can't be is a normal animal. Really, the most haunting thing about "We're Back" is that it reminds us all of how people who do not understand dinosaurs think of dinosaurs! You can only be either Barney or a monster, and it'd be absurd to imagine you as just another animal.
That is, unless you are an extant avian. Believe it or not, and here comes the second of the two good things I have to say about "WBAD", the movie has this weird bird motif going on. It's set during Thanksgiving, one of the human characters is named Nuthatch, you've got the bookends with the annoying little baby bird, the villain gets his comeuppance at the claws of a Parliament of crows (I will consider those corvids the real heroes of the picture), and we even get a very brief impression of a little nonavian dinosaur with feathers on it's head (and only there, but it's the early 90's and that's the most you could hope for back then). It all makes me wonder if somebody working on this terrible piece of s**t knew...
(As it happens, the night I watched "We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story", the local water birds were crying and screaming and singing dirges in the dark. While I was writing this review, all the little songbirds in my backyard were likewise acting very strange. I am not entirely convinced that this was a coincidence.)
I haven't said much about the actual animation, have I? This is the second feature-length effort from Amblimation, and I'd like to be able to say they've improved since "An American Tail 2: Fievel Goes West" but "WBAD" manages to look worse. (It certainly does not help that they made "A Wish For Wings That Work" in the interim, since the animation in that Christmas special is quite excellent.) A lot of this has to do with the character designs, which range from uncreative to eye-explodingly bad (holy s**t, the Parasaurolophus...) I could swear the little girl character was drawn a completely different age in every shot. Overall, the animation is just sloppy and weirdly "off". It's good the movie is so short, because after a while the weird sloppy animation actually started to hurt my eyes.
Yeah, yeah, I think that's enough words about "We're Back!" Next up, a movie where a human transforms into a big, scary, flying dinosaur and, for some improbable reason, she is terribly upset about it.
Art of the Day!
Man, dinosaurs just can't catch a break in animated films, can they?