1993 was an interesting year for dinosaur movies. Not only was it the year that Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park conquered the box office, but it was also the year that saw the release of the bizarre, dinosaur-centric Super Mario Bros. movie. To top off 1993’s dino-mania, we had We’re Back: A Dinosaur Story, which also happened to be executive produced by Spielberg. Though it isn’t a fondly remembered animated flick, We’re Back: A Dinosaur Story may scratch the nostalgic itch of 90s kids. Unfortunately, nostalgia may really be the only thing We’re Back has going for it.
Truth be told, the movie does have a decently entertaining opening act, but that may just be because of how off-the-wall the setup is. After a baby bird is bullied by his siblings, he decides to run away from home to join the circus. That’s when he’s consoled by a tyrannosaurus rex – aptly named Rex (John Goodman) – who is in the middle of a game of golf in 1990s New York. Rex then narrates the rest of the film to the bird, since it kind of/sort of relates to the bird’s situation.
Rex reveals that he does indeed come from prehistoric times. But upon being abducted by the time-traveling Professor Neweyes (Walter Cronkite) and his Jay Leno-voiced alien sidekick, Vorb, Rex is fed a breakfast cereal that evolves his brain, turning him into the sweet, cartoony dinosaur he is now. It turns out that Neweyes has evolved a few other dinosaurs as well, with the intention of taking them to the Museum of Natural History in New York City in the 1990s, as his “wish radio” reveals that children in the 1990s wish to see real dinosaurs. Neweyes plans for the dinosaurs to rendezvous with the museum curator in the 90s, and warns them to stay away from his sinister brother, Professor Screweyes, who travels through time to cause mischief, with his only reason being that he “went mad at the loss of his eye.”
The sheer absurdity of these opening moments may elicit some good laughter, whether intentional or not. Unfortunately, it’s all downhill from there, really. The dinosaurs miss their rendezvous with the curator, and end up befriending a couple of kids, Louie and Cecilia, who have run away from home to join the circus (hence the connection with the bird bit). But the circus is run by Professor Screweyes, who uses the big top as a means to frighten people, and possesses a drug that counteracts the evolutionary properties of his brother’s breakfast cereal.
Okay, what else is there to say about this plot? There’s also a clown voiced by Martin Short, and an entirely forgettable musical number in which Rex rides a Spider-Man balloon during a Thanksgiving parade. Need I go on?
The big problems with the film in terms of story are the rapid, cluttered pacing and an utter lack of character development. We’re Back’s overall runtime barely passes the hour mark, and much of the story just seems to kind of fall over itself. With more time to develop the scenes, maybe, just maybe, it could have had something of an emotional resonance. As it is, the scenes just come off as though they’re barely off the conceptual stage.
As for the characters, well, there’s not much to say. Rex can be summed up as a friendly dinosaur and not much else (though Goodman provides some good vocal work, as he later would for much better animated films and characters, such as Monsters, Inc’s Sully). The rest of the dinosaurs are…kind of there. The professors are professors, and the plucky kids are plucky kids.
The animation is decent enough, with a style that’s similar to Don Bluth’s films but not as good. It’s not bad animation, but it certainly doesn’t compare with many other animated films of the time.
There’s not exactly a whole lot else to it. Aside from the presence of John Goodman, the initial absurdity and a quick nostalgia fix, We’re Back: A Dinosaur Story is lacking in quality and substance in basically every area. Even younger audiences might quickly grow bored with it. Watch We’re Back: A Dinosaur Story only for the memories, if at all.