1993 was certainly an interesting year for Steven Spielberg for not only did he release his more than successful adaptation of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park, a movie that brought dinosaurs brilliantly to the modern-day, but he also released the animated dinosaur movie We’re Back a Dinosaur’s Story, which was also about bringing dinosaurs to the present day, only with the more cost-effective method of animation. Now, one of those films would be the winner of three Academy Awards and would revolutionize the movie industry and launch a billion-dollar franchise, while the other entry would decidedly do neither of those things.
Based on author Hudson Talbott’s children’s book of the same name, We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story tells the tale of four intelligent anthropomorphized dinosaurs and their adventures in the big city in a film that was marketed as the more family-friendly alternative to Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, and to say these two movies could not be more different would be an understatement of epic proportions, as would be their individual effect on the box office. The plot of this particular tale was a rather odd one and quite fitting for children’s books, because things happening in a logical fashion is not something that is normally required for young readers and this is a notion that should be kept in mind when also watching the film, but what exactly is We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story about? After a bizarre prologue, where a young bird in Central Park meets up with a golf-playing Tyrannosaurus Rex, we are told the story of how a ship from the distant future, piloted by a brilliant scientist named Captain Neweyes (Walter Cronkite), arrived back in the primeval era of Earth’s past to capture dinosaurs and bring them forward to modern-day so as to fulfill the wishes of children who dream of meeting real live dinosaurs. Obviously, some alternations must be made before these prehistoric killing machines were allowed to be near children.
Turns out Captain Neweyes had developed “Brain Grain” cereal that would increase their intelligence as well as metamorphize them into something that looks less likely to cause small children to collectively wet their pants. Neweyes is aided by an alien named Vorb (Jay Leno) and with his help, they are able to capture four dinosaurs which as a group include a Tyrannosaurus Rex, aptly named Rex (John Goodman), a blue Triceratops named Woog (René Le Vant), a purple Pteranodon named Elsa (Felicity Kendal) and a green Parasaurolophus named Dweeb (Charles Fleischer). Captain Neweyes informs these transformed dinos that once they are in New York City they are to find Dr. Julia Bleeb (Julia Child) at the Natural History Museum, where she will be their guide and help them meet up with children in need, but Neweyes also warns them to beware of his brother Professor Screweyes (Kenneth Mars), who apparently went insane after losing his eye and is now focused on causing mischief wherever he goes.
Their first encounter is with a child named Louie (Joey Shea), who is running away to join the circus, the kid convinces the quartet of dinosaurs that he can help them because the circus is located right across from the Museum of Natural History and he’s also confident that a circus manager would be very interested in real living dinosaurs and that could certainly help land a job. Of course, wandering around Manhattan with four rather large prehistoric reptiles isn’t easy and thus the group turn to Cecilia Nuthatch (Yeardley Smith), a young girl neglected by her wealthy parents, and with her help, they are able to blend in with animatronics of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. As expected things go disastrously wrong, Rex overhears many of the kids in the crowd wishing they were seeing real dinosaurs in the parade and inspires Rex to break into a song and dance number and he belts out “Roll Back the Rock” until eventually their wild antics reveal to the crowd that they are, in fact, real dinosaurs.
Question: Why the total freak out? These are cute anthropomorphize dinosaurs who can sing and dance, don’t call the army call Siegfried and Roy.
In a surprise to no one, the circus the manager is revealed to be none other than the evil Professor Screweyes, who is running a horror-themed “Eccentric Circus” located inside Central Park, and he tricks Cecilia and Louie into signing a contract which leads to them being devolved into chimpanzees so it’s up to the Rex and friends to save them. It should be noted that Captain Neweyes and his evil brother do not appear in Hudson Talbott’s book, there’s just the alien Vorb who apparently has a thing for making dinosaurs sentient and plopping them down in great metropolitan cities, but what works in a children’s picture book doesn’t necessarily work as a feature film and thus we get the whole “Evil Twin” subplot which takes the story in a rather Ray Bradbury direction and is also resolved in a rather bizarre fashion with Screweyes being swarmed and devoured by crows.
• Dinosaurs given the “Brain Grain” cereal not only find their intelligence increased, suddenly being able to read and speak English, but it also physically transforms into more child-friendly looking dinosaurs, yet how increased intelligence alters one’s physical form is never explained.
• Captain Neweyes may be a genius from the future but he clearly never read Ray Bradbury’s classic story Sound of Thunder or he would have been worried about what the “Butterfly Effect” would be once you abduct a bunch of dinosaurs from the past.
• Upon seeing four dinosaurs land in the Hudson River Louie’s first reaction is to call them morons for not recognizing New York City. I know New Yorkers are jaded but this is taking things too a little too far.
• Dinosaurs’ roaming freely through New York City isn’t all that new of a thing as the Rhedosaurus in the Ray Harryhausen film The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms had a pretty easy time of it.
• A little boy from the streets teaming up with a rich neglected little girl is a complete lift from Salkind’s Santa Claus: The Movie.
Steven Spielberg’s We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story has some fun moments and the talented voice cast does their best to elevate what is rather pedestrian material and even the animation is fairly decent, if not at the same level of lushness as seen in Spielberg’s previously produced animated dinosaur film The Land Before Time, and the tacked-on conflict with the two brothers doesn’t really make a lot of sense – neither twin is given much in the way motivations – and the creepy circus really didn’t fit in with all the comedic hijinks that preceded it, not to mention the fact that it could end up scaring the crap out of younger viewers.
Overall, this animated entry from Amblimation is a kid-friendly piece of fluff whose poor character animation and bizarre writing will find most adult audience members bored and confused while younger viewers will likely enjoy the colourful shenanigans because, hey, they’re dinosaurs and kids love dinosaurs.
We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story (1993)
Movie Rank - 6/10
Now, adapting a short children’s book into a feature-length film was never going to be an easy task but in the case of We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story, not even Spielberg and the four directors he assembled were able to quite pull it off as the additional subplot tacked on makes little to no sense and ends up taking the film in a strange and darker direction.