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We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story Reviews

Released in late 1993, WE'RE BACK! A DINOSAUR'S STORY offered parents who had been concerned about the violence in Steven Spielberg's JURASSIC PARK another option: a wholesome animated feature, complete with plenty of dinosaurs, but without the Jurassic gore. Produced by the animation division of Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment, the film makes more sense as a marketing strategy than it does as a family entertainment. A fierce tyrannosaurus rex from the Cretaceous era is caught by a time-and space-traveling philanthropist, Captain NewEyes (voice of Walter Cronkite). When fed with brain-enhancing snacks, the predator loses his sharp features, becomes soft and dopey-looking, and begins to speak with the friendly bass voice of actor John Goodman (KING RALPH, MATINEE). Thus "civilized," Rex is introduced to three other tamed giants; Woog the chubby triceratops; Elsa the flirty pterodactyl; and Dweeb (voice of Charles Fleischer), the nerdy hadrosaur. The reptiles have been collected by NewEyes in order to fulfil the wishes of children from dino-crazed 1993, who yearn to see such behemoths live again. NewEyes parachutes the four beasts down onto the island of Manhattan, where they make two human friends of the species stereotypus max: runaway ragamuffin Louie and poor little rich girl Cecilia. En route to the Museum of Natural History, the dinosaurs get caught up in a parade and entertain New Yorkers with a pseudo hip-hop musical number, "Roll Back the Rock" (co-written by Thomas Dolby). Once onlookers realize that the giant lizards aren't just parade floats, however, the city panics and the dinosaurs have to hide from armed SWAT teams. The creatures then come under the control of Professor ScrewEyes, the evil brother of NewEyes, insane, we're told, because of the loss of one eye (replaced by a screw). ScrewEyes runs a dark carnival in Central Park, thriving off the dread his black-magic circus instills in audiences. The fiend reverts the dinosaurs to their vicious, primitive selves for a new act, but Louie and Cecilia then restore them to their sweeter selves via hugs and kisses. ScrewEyes ends up absorbed by a flock of demonic crows, in the manner of George Stark in THE DARK HALF. The hydra-headed directing team assigned to WE'RE BACK! has created little more than a jumbled mess. The ScrewEyes episode lacks all New York ambiance and takes the dinosaurs offscreen for long stretches, reducing them to supporting players in their own story. It also introduces heavy-handed ruminations about the allure of savagery and the nature of fear, implying that people who get scared for fun are perverse, and the entertainers who oblige them diabolical--an unintentionally ironic commentary on both the makers and viewers of JURASSIC PARK. Meanwhile, some of the imagery in WE'RE BACK! is still capable of spooking younger children. Various subplots, involving everything from a frustrated clown to a put-upon baby bird, apparently exist solely to provide guest-voice roles for celebrities like Martin Short and Rhea Perlman. None of the dinosaurs develop much personality, with John Goodman's Rex sounding a little too much like Phil Harris's Baloo the Bear from THE JUNGLE BOOK. As Dweeb, Charles Fleischer seems to be doing his "Roger Rabbit" routine all over again, and broadcasting legend Walter Cronkite doesn't so much act as narrate the part of kindly Captain NewEyes. Barely over an hour long, WE'RE BACK! takes its inspiration from a 32-page children's book written and illustrated by Hudson Talbott. Talbott's tale had already been optioned by Hanna-Barbera for a possible TV series before Spielberg got involved (the book was a favorite of his son Max) and acquired it for Amblin. Several writers labored over different drafts of the script for two years before playwright and screenwriter John Patrick Shanley (MOONSTRUCK, JOE VERSUS THE VOLCANO) "polished" this final version. While this was Amblimation's second feature (after AN AMERICAN TALE: FIEVEL GOES WEST) turned out by their own high-tech, London-based workshop, the visuals nonetheless look Hanna-Barberian, coming to spectacular big-screen life in only a few scenes, such as Elsa's flight through the concrete canyons of Manhattan's skyscrapers. To make Talbott's creatures easier to draw, Amblimation's artists gave them round and simple lines, with the script explaining this transformation as side effects of the "brain gain" drug. All in all, the picture is a step down from the 1988 Amblin release THE LAND BEFORE TIME, for which Don Bluth's animation studio rendered dinosaurs and their world in more credible style. Although WE'RE BACK! rapidly went extinct at the box office, Amblin had already optioned the book's sequel, Going Hollywood: A Dinosaur's Dream.