Dinosaurs have been brought into the modern world in a variety of different ways, such as atomic testing waking them up from a long slumber or genetic tinkering creating a theme park full of flesh and bloodthirsty monsters, but it was Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World that first introduced the idea of prehistoric beasts colliding with humanity and that film could be considered the grandfather of Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend an 80s entry where we were supposed to believe that dinosaurs were just wandering around Africa with no one the wiser.
Released by Disney Studios in 1985, under their mature label Touchstone Pictures, the movie’s premise hinges on the idea that dinosaurs are currently roaming around Africa, now, I know that sounds fairly ridiculous, and it is, but it’s also based on the actual work of cryptozoologists Roy Mackal who went to Africa in search of the Mokele-mbembe, a creature described as being similar to a long-necked sauropod. Basically, he was looking for a dinosaur in Africa. Mackal also believed in the Loch Ness Monster so that puts his beliefs in a proper frame of reference, and though he had a doctorate in biology he had no training that would qualify him to undertake competent research on exotic animals. So what we have here is an interesting subject for a movie, a leading figure in a field that at best could be called “pseudoscience” and who is travelling into the Congo to prove his wack-a-doo theories to the world, but that’s not the movie we got, instead, we have an evil paleontologist named Dr. Eric Kiviat (Patrick McGoohan) who murders anyone who stands between him and his chance at capturing a living brontosaurus.
While the character of Dr. Eric Kiviat was loosely based on Dr. Roy Mackal this movie isn’t really about him, what we have instead is paleontologist Dr. Susan Matthews-Loomis (Sean Young) and her sports-writer husband George Loomis (William Katt), who put his own career on hold to join his wife in Africa, as she assists Kiviat in looking for dinosaur bones. When Susan finds a bone that she believes to be from a sauropod Kiviat quickly dismisses it as being from a giraffe, in the most condescending way possible, but it actually is a dinosaur bone and his dismissal is all about hiding his true agenda, which is to find a living dinosaur, and he can’t have his student stealing his thunder. This rather callous dismissal leads to Susan running off on her own when she hears of villagers getting sick from eating meat from an unknown animal – because why wouldn’t a paleontologist be called in to treat food poisoning – and you get three guesses as to what kind of animal it was and the first two don’t count.
As an adventure film Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend is an interesting animal, as it does bring the viewer to some rather beautiful locations, but much of the comedy surrounding the “wacky natives” is dubious at best, and as good as Patrick McGoohan is at playing outright villainy he is undermined by the fact that he’s facing off against the likes of Sean Young and William Katt, who are likable enough but are so far out of their league it’s not even funny. At one point in the story, after Kiviat’s army of goons have killed the male brontosaurus and captured the female, our two bumbling heroes try and free the mother brontosaurus in broad daylight, and this goes about as well as can be expected and these two idiots are quickly captured.
Much of the film consists of Susan and George running around the jungle, either trying to escape with the baby brontosaur they’ve sort of adopted or taking a break for moments of light comedy, and it’s this blend of comedy and action that just doesn’t work as at no time do we really feel that our heroes are in peril. Even when they are captured we know they will escape because they are equipped with the best plot armour Disney writers could buy. When Susan and George aren’t dodging bullets fired at them by African soldiers, who clearly went to the Stormtrooper School of Missing Things, we get bizarre “fish out of water” comedy that really doesn’t work considering that these two have apparently been living in the field for the past six months, so their stupidity makes little to no sense. Worse is the fact that George seems more interested in getting laid by his wife, even when she isn’t in the mood, rather than in the dinosaur baby they are supposed to be protecting.
• How do you get nudity in your family film? The answer, you simply set your movie in Africa and have the native women walk around topless.
• Evil Dr. Eric Kiviat takes the drugged brontosaurus female but leaves the dead male behind. This makes no sense as a dead specimen is just as valuable and allows you to do a full necropsy without having to harm the living one.
• Upon seeing the mother captured and the dad brutally killed Susan is pretty quick to decide to get the baby brontosaurus back to civilization so that they get credit for the discovery and not Kiviat, which is pretty cold thinking considering she’s supposed to be one of our protagonists.
• One-minute Kiviat is all “We don’t take prisoners” and is quite fine with the killing of George and Susan but then later when the two are captured again he keeps them alive to help find Baby, despite him having their tracking device and not needing them at all. Plot armour engaged!
• The character of Nigel, Eric’s assistant, is easily the most sympathetic character in the film and he truly seems to care more for the safety of the dinosaurs than our heroes do, yet the film casually kills him off as if he had it coming.
• A brontosaurus running as fast as a speeding pick-up truck is pretty damn ridiculous.
There are some genuinely funny moments in Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend, and William Katt and Sean Young have fine chemistry together, and Patrick McGoohan is a delight to watch as he chews up the scenery as the film’s resident baddie, unfortunately when it comes to the other key element – ie the dinosaurs themselves – the film really drops the ball. This film was released a decade before computer-generated imagery would be able to bring Jurassic Park’s dinosaurs so startling to life so one would have assumed that Disney would have employed the classic stop-motion technique that had been a standard method since almost the dawn of cinema, but you’d be wrong, instead, they decided to go with the full-scale animatronic puppets or the man-in-a-suit technique, and to say this provided viewers with less than convincing action would be a vast understatement.
Overall, Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend is a fairly forgettable entry from the folks over at Disney, which is a shame as the subject matter could have led to an interesting movie, such as tackling the life of Dr. Roy Mackal and his goofy belief in dinosaurs living in Darkest Africa, but what we ended up with was your garden variety matinee monster movie that didn’t really provide all that much in the way of dino-action. This movie is a hard one to recommend to anyone other than fans of dinosaur movies, but even then, there are many better examples to spend your time viewing rather than this rather tired attempt.
Question: For a species to survive doesn’t it have to have a rather sizable breeding population, and being brontosaurs are not the smallest creatures in the world how could anyone believe these creatures were roaming around Africa without anyone noticing them?
Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend (1985)
Movie Rank - 5.5/10
Watching Patrick McGoohan as an evil paleontologist is probably the only reason to bother checking out Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend but if you were to stumble across it on a streaming service there are worse ways to waste 90 minutes.