Steven Spielberg might not be the first thing that comes to mind whenever animation is brought up but, believe it or not, he’s actually made a big impact on the industry. He has collaborated on two of Don Bluth’s movies, directed The Adventures of Tintin, and produced some of Warner Bros. most famous cartoon shows. He has also formed two animation studios which include the studio Amblimation and its more famous successor, DreamWorks Animation. The former studio only produced three animated movies before closing its doors in 1997 though sadly its films don’t really live up to the ones from its successor. I think ‘We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story” is a good example of why. I originally watched the film when I was about seven or eight years old and had forgotten about it over the years. Upon rewatching it, I realized how bizarre and strange this movie was. It’s one of the weirdest animated movies ever made and that’s saying a lot given the kind of movies coming out now.
The movie follows four dinosaurs in prehistoric times named Rex, Elsa, Dweeb and Woog (John Goodman, Felicity Kendal, Charles Fleischer and Rene LeVant), who have been living ordinary dinosaur lives until a futuristic ship arrives and gives them a breakfast cereal that makes them very intelligent as well as giving them the ability to talk and think. They are then met by the pilot of the ship named Captain Neweyes (Walter Cronkite), who informs them that he is planning on putting them in a live exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History to entertain children. However, before they are zapped into a present-day New York City, Neweyes warns the dinosaurs to beware of his crazy evil brother Professor Screweyes (Kenneth Mars). Once they arrive in the Big Apple, the dinosaurs run into two runaway children named Louie and Cecilia (Joey Shea and Yeardley Smith), who plan on joining a circus. From there on out, the dinosaurs are on a crazy journey around the city with bizarre adventures to follow.
The film is based on a children’s book written and illustrated by Hudson Talbott. I feel that the source material was just too bizarre and too short for a full-length animated movie. In general, it’s a strange somewhat circuitous story to explain, which becomes less about the dinosaurs and more about those two runaway children. It also has too many bizarre moments to even count; notable examples include the films opening scene where Rex is playing golf and the scene where the dinosaurs are discovered resulting in the police being called in to arrest them. Some of the casting choices also seemed off. Both Walter Cronkite and Julia Child were cast in this movie, but neither seems to fit the roles properly. Although they didn’t have lead roles, it felt odd hearing their voices coming out of animated characters. As for the animation, I had some mixed feelings. The scenes were colorful and bouncy, and the character designs are unique and, thankfully, were not an attempt to copy Disney’s designs. However, I feel that the digital clean-up could have been better. While watching this movie, it became very clear that the animation was scanned into a computer as I saw pixels around the characters quite a few times. I don’t know if this was a home video problem or not, but it was distracting either way. I also felt like they could have spent more time on character development. The dinosaurs are likable characters and have some quirky charm to them, but they’re not as much of the focus as those two children, who are mainly just there to be cute. Louis is your typical ‘tough guy’ and Cecelia is the stereotypical girl that is able to melt his heart with her cute looks and nice attitude. Professor Screweyes is also your run-of-the-mill villain; he’s just some random evil old guy with no good in him whatsoever. The story would have been much better with an interesting villain. The one thing that was well done was the music composed by the late James Horner. The score is beautiful to listen to and has a sweeping feel to it but it’s sadly not enough to hold this movie up.
“We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story” is probably one of the poorest examples of an animated movie with Steven Spielberg’s involvement. The film is not horrible per se, but I don’t feel it’s as strong as any other animated movies he’s worked on. The story is very bizarre and strange, the animation looks a little too pixelated, and, in general, the characters are just underdeveloped. I feel that for those that want a stronger animated dinosaur movie with Spielberg’s involvement, they should instead look at The Land Before Time and leave this film as a fossil.
Note: This review was originally written and published May 7, 2017, for Rotoscopers "Indie-Mation Club".