While the main characters in Dinosaur are computer-animated, most of the film's backgrounds were filmed on location. A number of backgrounds were found in Canaima National Park in Venezuela; various tepuis and Angel Falls also appear in the film.
The film revolves around the life of an Iguanodon named Aladar who is taken from his nest as an egg and after a long and precarious flight via a Pteranodon, his egg lands on Lemur Island where he is adopted by a family of lemurs; consisting of Plio, her father, Yar, and her brother, Zini. Years on, Plio has had a daughter named Suri and the family takes part in mating season which Zini fails to accomplish and goes without a mate. Moments after the mating season ends, a huge asteroid destroys the island and leaves only Aladar and his closest family members confirmed to be alive. The family move on and after being pursued by a pack of Velociraptors, come across a herd of various dinosaurs, led by another Iguanodon named Kron and his lieutenant Bruton. Other herd members include elderly Brachiosaurus Baylene, Styracosaurus Eema, doglike Ankylosaurus Url, and Kron's younger sister Neera.
Aladar and the lemurs accompany the herd across a desert to reach a nearby breeding ground the herd has visited before. However, they are being followed by the Velociraptors and later by a pair of Carnotaurus, referred to as "Carnotaurs" in the film. The herd stops at a lake that appears to be dried up, but the water is revealed to be underground, by Aladar hearing it underneath because he had been trying to get Baylene and Eema across. Later that day, Carnotaurs begin stalking the herd, sending the herd into a panicked flurry. Aladar, the lemurs, Eema, Baylene, Url and Bruton are all left behind and regroup in a series of caves. The Carnotaurs attack them, but Bruton sacrifices himself to allow the others to flee, burying one of the Carnotaurs in the process. The group flee to the back of the caverns, then smash down a wall to reveal a path straight into the breeding ground. Eema spots that the usual entrance has been blocked off, prompting Aladar to find Kron and the rest of the herd.
Kron, Neera and the herd are on the other side of the blocked off entrance, Kron ordering that the herd climb impossibly over the wall. Aladar arrives and suggests the route through the caves due to a sheer drop on the other side that would kill the herd, which Kron objects to and accuses Aladar of stealing his role as leader. The two fight for dominance until Neera steps in and defends Aladar, deciding to go with him and the herd through his route. The surviving Carnotaur appears, causing the herd to go into a panic. Aladar convinces the herd that the only way they can survive is by standing together. They fend off the Carnotaur and get past it, but the Carnotaur then notices Kron, who had refused to follow Aladar, and decided he would climb the wall to get to the nesting grounds. The Carnotaur begins to chase Kron down. Neera notices this, and rushes to try to aid her brother, soon followed by Aladar. In the fight that ensues, Kron is fatally wounded by the Carnotaur. Aladar forces the Carnotaur onto a cliff edge that collapses, sending it plummeting to its death. Neera comes to Kron but it is too late. The herd reaches the breeding ground, led by Aladar. Aladar and Neera have children as well as the rest of the herd, and the lemurs find more of their kind.
- D. B. Sweeney as Aladar, a brave and compassionate Iguanodon who's been adopted into a family of lemurs and does what he can to make sure that the old and weak aren't left behind during the herd's migration. He serves as the main protagonist of the film.
- Alfre Woodard as Plio, a lemur (Coquerel's Sifaka) matriarch who cares for her family.
- Ossie Davis as Yar, a lemur patriarch whose occasional gruff demeanor is just a front covering his more compassionate interior. He is the father of Plio and Zini and the grandfather of Suri.
- Max Casella as Zini, Aladar's stepuncle and wisecracking sidekick, Yar's son, Suri's uncle and Plio's brother.
- Hayden Panettiere as Suri, Aladar's stepsister, Zini's little niece, Plio's daughter and Yar's granddaughter.
- Samuel E. Wright as Kron, an Iguanodon leading a herd of dinosaur survivors who is characterized by a strict adherence to social Darwinist theory. He believes in survival of the fittest, which repeatedly clashes with Aladar's merciful manner. Apart from the Carntaurs, Kron is the main antagonist of the film.
- Julianna Margulies as Neera, Kron's sister, who ends up falling in love with Aladar because of his compassionate ways.
- Peter Siragusa as Bruton, Kron's domineering right-hand assistant. He is betrayed and left for dead by Kron, and ultimately gives his life to kill one of the Carnotaurs to save Aladar, the lemurs, and the weak dinosaurs.
- Joan Plowright as Baylene, an elderly and dainty Brachiosaurus (technically a Giraffatitan due to her identification as B. brancai).
- Della Reese as Eema, a wizened, elderly and slow-moving Styracosaurus, and Url's companion.
Throughout the film, Velociraptors and Carnotaurus make appearances, but are not given voices. Early on, a Carnotaur attack precipitates the events that lead to Aladar's adoption by Plio and the lemurs. Later on, a group of Velociraptors chase Aladar down and later stalk the herd until they are scared away by a pair of Carnotaurs, who consistently stalk the herd in their search for food. The first Carnotaur was killed by Bruton, who sacrificed himself to save Aladar and the others during a cave-in. The second and last one was killed during a fight with Aladar on a top of a cliff, where it starts to break under its weight, causing it to fall to its death.
While a dinosaur-related computer-animated film had been contemplated for over a decade, the film finally went into production when it did, as "the technology to produce the stunning visual effects" had come about - a few years before Dinosaur's eventual release in 2000. The CGI effects are coupled with "real-world backdrops to create a 'photo-realistic' look". The crew went all around the world, in order to "record dramatic nature backgrounds" for the film, which were then "blended with the computer-animated dinosaurs". Disney said that the over-$100 million visual effects "make the film an 'instant classic'".
The concept for the film was originally conceived by Paul Verhoeven and Phil Tippett in 1988 and was pitched as a stop-motion animated film with the title Dinosaurs. The film's original main protagonist was a Styracosaurus and the main antagonist was originally a Tyrannosaurus Rex. The film was originally going to be much darker and violent in tone and would end with the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event, which would ultimately result in the deaths of the film's characters. Paul Verhoeven and Phil Tippett pitched the idea to Disney, only to have the idea for the film shelved away with the onset of the Disney Renaissance until the mid-1990s. The film was originally supposed to have no dialogue at all, in part to differentiate the film from The Land Before Time with which Dinosaur shares plot similarities. Michael Eisner insisted that the film have dialogue in order to make it more "commercially viable". A similar change was also made early in the production of The Land Before Time, which was originally intended to feature only the voice of a narrator.
The film's score was composed by James Newton Howard. Pop singer/songwriter Kate Bush reportedly wrote and recorded a song for the film but due to complications the track was ultimately not included on the soundtrack. According to HomeGround, a Kate Bush fanzine, it was scrapped when Disney asked Bush to rewrite the song and Bush refused; however, according to Disney, the song was cut from the film when preview audiences did not respond well to the track. In Asia, pop singer Jacky Cheung's song Something Only Love Can Do, with versions sung in English, Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese, was adopted as the theme song for the film.
The Countdown to Extinction attraction at the Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park, was renamed and re-themed to the movie. It is now known as DINOSAUR. The storyline was always intended to tie in with the movie, considering the usage of a Carnotaurus as the ride's antagonist and Aladar as the Iguanodon that guests rescue from the meteor and take back into the present, seen wandering the Dino Institute in Security Camera footage seen on monitors in the attraction's unloading area.
George Scribner was the original director of the film. Scribner spent two years on it and left to join Walt Disney Imagineering. But fundamentally, the story was pretty much the same after he left.
Though Eric Leighton, one of the directors, spoke about his team "want[ing] to learn as much about dinosaurs as possible", he also admitted that they would "cheat like hell" because they were not creating a documentary. A Disney press kit revealed that the film "intentionally veers from scientific fact in certain aspects". In reality, the film cheated in multiple ways in regard to: how the "dinosaurs are depicted" and how they "are presented in an evolutionary context".
Dinosaur combines the use of live-action backgrounds with computer animation of prehistoric creatures, notably the titular dinosaurs, produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation's Computer Graphics Unit that was later merged with Dream Quest Images to create Disney's The Secret Lab department. The Secret Lab department closed in 2002.
Vision Crew Unlimited provided the live-action special visual effects.
The soundtrack album was composed by James Newton Howard with vocals by Lebo M who did vocals from The Lion King, and was released on May 5, 2000 by Walt Disney Records. Howard would later compose the scores for the Disney animated features Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Treasure Planet. The Egg Travels was heard in many trailers inculding Lilo and Stitch, Around the World in 80 Days and The Wild Thornberrys Movie.
- Inner Sanctum/The Nesting Grounds (2:57)
- The Egg Travels (2:43)
- Aladar & Neera (3:29)
- The Courtship (4:13)
- The End Of Our Island (4:00)
- They're All Gone (2:08)
- Raptors/Stand Together (5:37)
- Across The Desert (2:25)
- Finding Water (4:14)
- The Cave (3:40)
- The Carnotaur Attack (3:52)
- Neera Rescues The Orphans (1:13)
- Breakout (2:43)
- It Comes With A Pool (3:01)
- Kron & Aladar Fight (2:58)
- Epilogue (2:32)
Dinosaur received generally favorable reviews from critics. The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 65% of critics gave the film positive reviews, based on 122 reviews (79 "Fresh" and 43 "Rotten"); with an average score of 6.2/10. The overall consensus on the site was: "While Dinosaur's plot is generic and dull, its stunning computer animation and detailed backgrounds are enough to make it worth a look." Roger Ebert gave the film three stars out of four praising the film's "amazing visuals" but criticizing the decision to make the animals talk, which he felt cancelled out the effort to make the film so realistic. "An enormous effort had been spent on making these dinosaurs seem real, and then an even greater effort was spent on undermining the illusion" was his final consensus. The overall rating of Dinosaur on Metacritic from critics is 56%, with 15 critics giving positive reviews, 12 giving mixed reviews, and 5 giving negative reviews.
The lemurs depicted in the movie strongly resemble the sub-species Verreaux's sifaka. Biologists have raised concerns that the movie is misleading and could potentially confuse people, as it suggests lemurs (in their present evolved state) co-existed with dinosaurs over 65 million years ago. All modern strepsirrhines including lemurs are traditionally thought to have evolved from 'primitive' primates known as adapiforms during the Eocene (56 to 34 mya) or Paleocene (65 to 56 mya).
In an analysis of the film, done as part of EmpireOnline's Your Guide To Disney's 50 Animated Features, on the opening sequence it said "much of the scenery is skilfully-composited live-action, including shots of the tepui mountains that would captivate Up's Carl Fredricksen". However, it spoke negatively about the unrealistic talking dinosaurs after the opening, describing it as a "nose-dive". It said they "sound[ed] more like mallrats than terrible lizards" and that although no-one knows what dinosaurs sound like, they definitely don't sound like that. It also disliked how the meteor hit Earth in Act 1, making the majority of the film set "in gray gravel-pits rather than the lush landscapes we were sold". It said "the animals [are] cute enough, but the script, characters and dino-action are all plodding kiddie fare", but added these faults are made up through "James Newton Howard's majestic score". It cited similarities to the 1988 dinosaur-themed Don Bluth film "The Land Before Time", and the more successful prehistoric Blue Sky Studios film Ice Age (which it described as "sassier"), and added that the "images of desperately migrating dinosaurs hark back to the far greater Fantasia". The film was also deemed "inferior" to the work of Pixar.
Dinosaur was a box-office success. It opened at #1 making $38,854,851 in its first weekend from 3,257 theaters, for an average of $11,929 per theater, beating Paramount's Mission: Impossible II, DreamWorks' Gladiator, and Warner Bros' Battlefield Earth. It had a final gross of $137,748,063 domestically which covered its production costs. The film was eventually accepted overseas earning $212,074,702 for a worldwide take of $349,822,765, becoming the 5th highest grossing movie of 2000.
- Main article: Dinosaur (video)
The film has been released onto VHS, DVD and Blu-ray.
Disney Interactive released a tie-in video game on the Dreamcast, PlayStation, PC and Game Boy Color in 2000. To promote the release of Dinosaur, the Disney theme park ride "Countdown to Extinction" was renamed "DINOSAUR", and its plot, which had always prominently featured a Carnotaurus and an Iguanadon, was mildly altered so that the Iguanadon is specifically meant to be Aladar, the protagonist of the movie, and the plot of the ride is now about a human scientist travelling through time to a point just before the impact of the meteor which caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, to bring Aladar back to the present and save his life.
- Disney originally was going to use the all-time famous Tyrannosaurus Rex, but instead used the relatively unknown Carnotaurus. Geographically, Iguanodon, the protagonist of the movie, and Carnotaurus, the antagonist of the movie, were both discovered in South America, indicating that if they kept Tyrannosaurus for the movie, the background and story would be messed up, because Tyrannosaurus was discovered in North America, also indicating that the film geographically took place in South America.
- One error in the film is the Pterosaur would be too tired to fly all the way from South America to Madagascar, or Lemur Island, because Madagascar was the habitat of lemurs. Another error is the meteor landed somewhere near the Gulf of Mexico, not near Madagascar, or Lemur Island. Also, Aladar swam to another island, which was probably one near Africa, but later in the movie, they end up in South America.
- According to the DVD special feature "Dinopedia" (not to be confused with National Geographic's Dino-Pedia), Iguanodons were found on every continent (except Antarctica).
- Dinosaur is Disney's first CGI movie (and the first to use real-life backgrounds in said movie).
- The Lion King 1½ Gameboy Advance sneak peek in the DVD release of The Lion King 1½ features the small chant "Ooa, ooa" from the "Aladar and Neera" track.
- Pam Marsden, one of the producers of the film, is also the producer for the Sony Animation film Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and its sequel.
- Dinosaur is the first Disney film musically composed by James Newton Howard, the second being Atlantis: The Lost Empire, the third being Treasure Planet, the fourth being Gnomeo & Juliet, the fifth being Maleficent.
- Dinosaur is the 47th highest-grossing animated film, the 7th highest-grossing Walt Disney film (excluding Pixar), and the 42nd highest-grossing animated film in the "Computer" category.
- Baker Bloodworth was also the producer for The Origin of Stitch and Gnomeo & Juliet.
- Dinosaur is the third non-musical animated Disney Feature, following The Black Cauldron and The Rescuers Down Under.
- This film is responsible for bringing many species of dinosaur into the realm of popular culture; most notably species like Carnotaurus, Iguanodon, Pachyrhinosaurus and Oviraptor. Though it should be noted that Iguanodon was present in pop culture for a longer time period, probably due to the fact that it was one of the first dinosaurs ever discovered.
- It should also be noted that several species of dinosaur were cut from the final film. Examples include Tyrannosaurus, Maiasaura, Amargasaurus, Pachycephalosaurus, Nanshiungosaurus (a relative of the famous (Therizinosaurus), Alvarezsaurus, Utahraptor, Camarasaurus Triceratops, Pentaceratops, Corythosaurus, Craterosaurus (a relative of the famous Stegosaurus) and Ornithomimus.
- This movie is similar to The Land Before Time, as both involve plant-eating dinosaurs living in a safe haven from predators (for Dinosaur, the Nesting Grounds; for The Land Before Time, the Great Valley).
- Dinosaur is not included in the Walt Disney Animated Classics line in the UK, being replaced with The Wild.
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