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There are few things in life that you don’t grow out of; things that retain the same level of unassailable awesomeness no matter how old you are. Dinosaurs are one of those things, and over the years Hollywood has tried to capitalize on the universal appeal of our prehistoric predecessors with all kinds of movies. The results have varied wildly in quality from iconic pieces of film to movies so bad that they make B-movies look like cinematic masterpieces.
A good barometer with which to evaluate the quality of a dinosaur movie is how it relates to the movie that is actually called Dinosaur. Disney’s 2000 animated feature film is an admirable and ambitious entry in the storied studio’s canon, conveying a sense of grandeur and boasting stunning visuals that were ahead of their time while having darker elements than you sometimes see in a Disney movie. However, Dinosaur’s plot and characters are extremely thin and beyond just being pretty to look at, the film can become tedious and very boring. There’s a reason that Dinosaur is something of a forgotten Disney movie.
So Dinosaur is basically fine. Not amazing, but a long way off from terrible. If a dinosaur movie is better than Dinosaur you’ll probably be solidly entertained by it, and if it’s worse (and trust me, there are a lot of bad dinosaur movies), then it could range from somewhat enjoyable to something that demands an asteroid wipe it from existence. With that in mind, here are 5 movies that are better than the movie Dinosaur and 5 that are worse. Let's kick off with the group that shines.
Duh and/or hello. Steven Spielberg’s 1993 masterpiece is the best dinosaur movie ever made and probably will remain so when humans join dinosaurs in the dirt. While Dinosaur is populated by one-dimensional characters, Jurassic Park is full of incredible characters, ground-breaking special effects and John Williams’ iconic score. Adapted from Michael Crichton’s novel, Jurassic Park is the tale of a theme park where dinosaurs have been brought back from extinction and the deadly results of scientific and technological advancement in the absence of ethical introspection. This film remains unsurpassed and just as full of wonder and terror a quarter-century after its release.
Better-The Land Before Time
Jurassic Park may be the most successful dinosaur movie franchise, but The Land Before Time is the most prolific, with 14 films to date, the most recent entry coming in 2016. It all started with 1988’s The Land Before Time from executive producer Steven Spielberg and legendary animation director Don Bluth. The story of of young dino friends Littlefoot, Cera, Ducky, Spike and Petrie and their quest to find the Great Valley and reunite with their families has Bluth’s stunning animation, cute and fun characters and deeper, complex themes of loss and separation and prejudice. The nostalgia for this movie is well justified.
Better-The Good Dinosaur
Here’s the thing about Pixar: even one of its less lauded films still manages to be better than a lot of other movies, and The Good Dinosaur is definitely better than Dinosaur. Boasting jaw-dropping animation, The Good Dinosaur tells the story of a world where dinosaurs did not go extinct and they live side by side with early humans. In this case, an Apatosaurus named Arlo who forms an unlikely friendship with a young boy he names Spot. Like Dinosaur, The Good Dinosaur is more style and visual pizazz than narrative substance, but the entertainment value is stronger in the Pixar film, giving it the edge.
Jurassic World is no Jurassic Park, not by a long shot, but it is a highly entertaining, patently absurd popcorn spectacle. If the sole metric a dinosaur movie was judged on was how awesome its dinosaurs look, Jurassic World would win hands down (despite the film’s dinosaur depictions being more fantasy than paleontology). Jurassic World showed what happened when John Hammond’s dream was finally realized and how a desire for profit and disrespect of nature would cause history to repeat itself. Packed with raptor-training, high-heeled dino escapes and genetic hybrids, Jurassic World is a wild ride befitting the theme park itself.
Better-Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs
When it comes to prehistoric franchises, few have been more successful than Ice Age, and in the third film in the franchise, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, the furry mammals are joined by their bigger and more scaly predecessors. This film is borderline in relation to Dinosaur given the stale story, but what separates it and what gave the franchise such success are its humor and its characters. Unlike the forgettable lemurs in Dinosaur who weren’t particularly funny, Manny, Sid, Diego, Crash, Scrat and Ellie are all a delight and the dinosaurs are a great addition to the story.
Now that we've gone over the good dinosaur movies, let's look at the ones that fail to make a decent impression.
Dinosaurs were extremely hot in 1993, and perhaps the most '90s example of this is the family adventure film Prehysteria! This film tells the story of a museum curator named Rico who steals five dinosaur eggs and then loses those them in a mix up with a farmer named Frank. The farmer’s two kids Monica and Jerry discover the eggs, which naturally hatch. They name the five miniature dinosaurs Elvis, Paula, Jagger, Hammer and Madonna after music stars and have to keep them from the nasty Rico. While it no doubt has some nostalgic and B-movie appeal, the craft and quality is nowhere near Dinosaur.
Worse-Walking With Dinosaurs
You know how Dinosaur’s stunning visuals make up for a lackluster script? Well Walking with Dinosaurs’ technological artistry cannot overcome a genuinely bad script with cringe-worthy dialogue and juvenile jokes. Based on the BBC series, Walking with Dinosaurs follows an underdog Pachyrhinosaurus who rises up to become a hero. The film may boast some of the most accurate dinosaur depictions ever put to film and it is a technical achievement that is over a decade beyond what was done in Dinosaur, but what you’re hearing negatively impacts the experience of the amazing images you’re seeing.
Worse-We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story
Produced by Steven Spielberg and starring the voice talents of John Goodman, Jay Leno, Walter Cronkite, Julia Child and Martin Short, We’re Back! Is about Captain New Eyes, who travels back in time to feed dinosaurs cereal that makes them smarter and then convinces them to come to our time to entertain children. But in the future, the dinos and the kids must contend with the Captain’s crazy brother, Professor Screw Eyes. We’re Back! definitely carries some nostalgic sentiment for some, but the animation isn’t as impressive as The Land Before Time or Dinosaur and the story isn’t as strong.
The B-movie king, independent film pioneer and Pope of Pop Cinema Roger Corman produced this 1993 attempt to cash in on proximity to Jurassic Park. Carnosaur tells the story of a mad scientist who is using infected chicken eggs to unleash an airborne virus that impregnates women with dinosaur embryos in order to eliminate humanity and allow dinosaurs to repopulate the Earth. Only a security guard and an environmentalist can stop her. With Corman’s trademark B-movie charm, you may find something to like here if that’s your thing, but I mean come on, it’s obviously worse than Dinosaur.
Worse-Tammy and the T-Rex
Long before she was a Bond girl and he was drinking Corona with Vin Diesel, Denise Richards and Paul Walker starred in this 1994 sci-fi comedy, the existence of which beggars belief. Tammy and the T-Rex finds Tammy and her boyfriend Michael in a happy relationship until Tammy’s ex-boyfriend attacks Michael and he winds up in a comatose state. He is declared dead and his brain is used to control a robotic T-Rex. T-Rex Michael seeks vengeance against his attackers and to rekindle his relationship with Tammy, all the while having to escape the evil doctor. Horrible acting, terrible production value, nonsense story: not better than Dinosaur.
As you can undoubtedly see, movies that are better than Dinosaur fit into the upper echelon of dino movies and they are few and far between. There have been countless bad dinosaur movies, many of which have been forgotten to history, just waiting for brave movie fans to dig them up and see how truly strange they were. Dinosaurs always felt like an underutilized movie concept to me outside of the Jurassic franchise, maybe the future will see more big movies get creative with bringing the fascinating creatures back to life on the big screen.
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