How quickly CGI has evolved. Remember Tron, way, way, way, way back in 1982? It’s incredibly primitive, cost $17,000,000 to make (big money in 1982), and was very, very hard to do, harder and more labor-intensive than hand-drawn animation. The computer wasn’t capable of showing motion, so the coordinates for each frame had to be entered by hand. And there’s less CGI in it than you might think: only about 20 minutes.
Now look at Dinosaur. Technically it isn’t anything special by today’s standards—ten years is a geological age in computer graphics!—but way, way back in 2000 it was pretty stunning. We had already seen pretty good dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, but not nearly so many of them. Dinos are in every frame of this movie, and they look absolutely real … well, except for the business of them talking … They also used an innovative technique of putting the CGI dinosaurs into real-world backgrounds, which I’m sure saved a lot of money on computer time and actually makes the picture look even better. And the scenes where the giant fireballs are coming down were astonishing and actually scary.
But it’s a rather grim story. Not a lotta laughs, though the little lemur/monkeys (with the best CGI hair ever done up to that point) try hard. It’s a survival-of-the-fittest vs. let’s-all-help-each-other dynamic, and frankly, it just didn’t go down well with me. It’s all so real (again, except for the talking, which I agree with Roger Ebert was a mistake) that the idea of these various plant-eating species traveling together like pilgrims to Canterbury just never resonated with me. Of course, we know almost nothing about dinosaur behavior—it’s only recently we determined that some of them at least guarded their eggs, like alligators do—so I suppose anything’s possible, but it’s still a weak story.
And I must stand up again for the predators of the world. Why don’t they talk? The gangs of velociraptors never speak, and neither do the T. rexes. Are they dumb? … Er, I mean stupid? This is unfair. Why couldn’t a T. rex say something like “You look delicious,” or “Yum, yum, I’m gonna eat you, because that’s my role in the great ecological food chain, and besides, I’m a Darwinian agent of natural selection; I’m making your herd stronger by killing the old, slow, and weak. So hakuna matata, you poor schmuck.” Nobody ever talks about that. Carnivores get a bad rap in cartoons. Even when they’re the hero, like The Lion King, what does Simba eat? Maggots and worms, while Scar dines on warm, succulent haunch of zebra.