The late Cretaceous era. A stray egg hatched by lemur-like apes grows to be humane-but-rebel dinosaur Aladar. After a meteor storm holocaust, Aladar and his family join an exodus across the desert led by tyrant Kron. With predators in pursuit, Aladar soon
Though it doesn’t add up to much more than a photo-realistic redo of that regular cartoon The Land Before Time (1988) , this prehistoric trek follows the Toy Story movies (1995, 1999) and A Bug’s Life (1999) by being another major advance in the field of CGI animation, with entirely convincing backgrounds - including tricky stuff like water, fire, leaves and fur - as well as easy-peasy desert and rocks. Indeed, the need to tailor prehistoric characters for a modern audience gives the animator-programmers extra hurdles, as dinosaurs are required to show a greater range of expression - laughing and crying -than lizards actually have, especially around the mouth and eyes.
This is essentially a wilderness Western, withthe vast unknowables of pre-history boiled down to the sort of arguments that cropped up every week on Wagon Train, as the Darwin-worshipping herd leader ruthlessly drives everyone and leaves the weak to drop in their tracks, while the more emotional hero argues for the value of every dinosaur in the pack and insists they all have something to contribute to the quest.
As in Disney’s old True-Life adventures, animals are monogamous and family-centric, and to hell with what they’re really like. What jars is not so much the fact that the dinosaurs are anthropomorphised, but that they have to be especially square Americans. The film presents the past as a strange cross between the button-down conservatism of the ‘50s and multi-cultural rainbow fantasy, with scavengers and “carnotaurs” as an external threat, and brontosauruses co-existing happily with parasite-like monkeys.
Sadly, the personal strands that emerge along the trek - Aladar’s romance with Kron’s sister, Neera; the contribution finally made by old-timers the tribe would like to get rid of; and a comedy sub-plot about the monkey who is always left aside when the mating season comes - aren’t too interesting, hindered by thin vocal characterisations. Moreover, there are no songs to leaven the journey for the kiddies, resulting in a tone that is far more downbeat than most recent Disney summer output. However, augmented by a typically bombastic James Newton Howard score that owes more than a nod and a wink to The Lion King (1994), the sweeping visions are often astonishing, with as many tiny felicities - water seeping up from a dried lakebed under a heavy foot - as the bigthinks moments: the opening gambit that follows the journey of the egg both in mid-air and underwater, or a meteor raising a fiery mushroom cloud.
It is a long way from both the fantasies of One Million Years BC (1966) or When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth (1969) , in which great lizards and cavemen live at the same time, but its commitment to palaeontological credibility still takes a back seat to storytelling, with a lot more disaster and conflict than leaf-munching and hibernating.