I suppose I was enchanted by Dinosaur, the first film off the assembly line at Disney's brand-new digital studio. Yet another CGI marvel (pardon me while I stifle a yawn), this prehistoric version of Bambi represents the cutting edge in the meshing of animation and live-action into some third thing that nobody has a real good name for yet--digitanimation? And, I must admit, it's a joy to watch, the terrible lizards given the kind of meticulous attention that Old Masters used to lavish on the human face. But there's the visual thing and then there's the vision thing, and Dinosaur is heavy on the former, light on the latter. Its story has been recycled so many times, from Bambi to Tarzan, that you'd think it would either have evolved or gone extinct by now. Do kids really need another lesson in following your destiny? Don't answer that. This time, the destiny belongs to Aladar, a young iguanodon who, after an astonishing opening sequence in which an egg is transported over land, underwater and through the air to a remote island, is raised by a family of lemurs. Then the asteroids fall from the sky, wiping out the island if not--as paleontologists once believed--the reign of the dinosaurs on earth. Carrying his adoptive family on his back, Aladar joins many other dinosaur species on a cattle-drive trek to their nesting grounds, a journey fraught with peril, most of it in the form of carnotaurs, this year's model of T. Rex. Along the way, he teaches the other dinosaurs a lesson about cooperation, thereby evolving from a boy into a man--okay, a "boy" into a "man." (Someday, colleges will offer courses in anthropomorphology, which will be taught by Disney animators.)
Maybe it's the seeming reality of the images in Dinosaur, but it was jarring to this viewer when, say, a fierce-looking styrachosaur started talking in the friendly baritone of Della Reese. Disney seems to want it both ways--a film that's tame and wild (Barney and Godzilla). But I wonder how old my kids (if I had any) would have to be before I'd let those carnotaurs loose on them. On the thematic level, the movie tries to tame the wild, pitching Darwinian survival of the fittest for New Age touchie-feelies. Only Disney could find a happy ending for what may have been the most cataclysmic event in our planet's history. Luckily, I found it easy to ignore such things while marveling at the digitanimation, which limns every blade of grass. Still, you have to wonder whether Disney's missed the forest for the leaves.