Universal // 1993 // 72 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // May 26th, 2009
A dinosaur adventure for the whole family!
Before Steven Spielberg teamed with Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen to form DreamWorks SKG and DreamWorks Animation SKG, he launched a short-lived animation studio called Amblimation. Between 1991 and 1995, Amblimation produced three theatrical features, An American Tail: Fievel Goes West (1991) (the sequel to parent company Amblin Entertainment's An American Tail), Balto (1995), and the movie under review here, 1993's We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story. None of the movies performed spectacularly at the box office, but We're Back! was the biggest bomb of the group, hauling in less than ten million dollars during its US theatrical run.
Directed by Simon Wells (Prince of Egypt), We're Back! begins in the prehistoric past, where a green-skinned alien named Vorb (Jay Leno, Igor) feeds a vicious Tyrannosaurus Rex (John Goodman, The Big Lebowski) Dr. Neweyes' (famed anchorman Walter Cronkite) special Brain Grain cereal, turning him into a docile and intelligent creature with the ability to speak. Rex soon makes friends with other enhanced dinos, Dweeb the Parasaurolophus (Charles Fleischer, Zodiac), Woog the Triceratops (René LeVant, Rocky II), and Elsa the Pterodactyl (Felicity Kendal). Dr. Neweyes sends the quartet of outsized reptiles to the future in order to fulfill the wishes of modern-day children to meet real dinosaurs. The dinosaurs team with New York kids Louie (Joey Shea) and Cecelia (Yeardley Smith, The Simpsons) to find Dr. Bleeb (Julia Child, Parting Shots) from the Museum of Natural History. But during their quest they run afoul of Neweyes' insane brother Dr. Screweyes (Kenneth Mars, The Producers), who runs the Eccentric Circus and wants to capture the dinosaurs and put them on display.
We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story is a barely intelligible mix of lame-brained science fiction, talking dinosaurs, an urban road picture, mustache-twirling villainy, and the surreal. Starting with a first-act bit of brain manipulation and time travel in the name of wish-fulfillment, the movie caroms from one off-the-wall plot development to another. A few of the tangents (like the Eccentric Circus) are visually satisfying but, together, they don't add up to a story that is either emotionally satisfying or makes a lick of sense. The movie's scattered narrative might work if its characters were compelling, but Rex is a bland protagonist, the other three dinosaurs are nondescript to the point of being unnecessary to the story, and Louie and Cecelia are little kids without personality. Watching them whipsaw from one nonsensical adventure to another is exasperating and dull because we can't quite muster concern that they might fail in their quest or that Screweyes might succeed in inflecting harm on them. If you're the parent of a child infatuated with animated dinosaurs, stick with The Land Before Time (also produced by Spielberg, and directed by An American Tail's Don Bluth).
As a piece of 2D animation, We're Back! is mildly attractive, but nowhere near as visually impressive as Disney features of the same vintage. Character movement lacks supple precision; background plates, which are often rotoscoped from real buildings in New York, are mostly flat and static. The quality of the animation is slightly superior to television productions, which is to say it's weak for a theatrical feature. The movie is presented on DVD in its original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio, enhanced for widescreen displays. The transfer sports slightly overblown colors (reds and oranges bleed a bit here and there) and only average detail. Coarse grain is prevalent throughout. Minor instances of dirt and other flaws are also noticeable. It's not a horrible transfer (it's merely mediocre), but the source looks aged and cheap.
There are no extras.
We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story is a confused and confusing mess of a movie that feels more like a series of loosely related tangents than a coherent story. Its animation is adequate, but too low-budget to impress. Young children may enjoy it (or not), but the rest of the family is likely to be bored senseless.
Guilty as charged.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 72 Minutes
Release Year: 1993
MPAA Rating: Rated G