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We're Back [VHS]
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Four dinosaurs take up a time-traveling scientist (Walter Cronkite) on his offer to get smart by eating "brain grain," and it's off to the 20th century in this animated kids movie. But there's no real terror in the streets here, as the newly cerebral, English-speaking prehistoric beasts hit the New York City pavement in search of a museum proprietor (Julia Childs). On the way they befriend a couple of kids from the opposite sides of the tracks, get rooked into performing in a demented circus run by the scientist's evil brother, and learn something about friendship. John Goodman voices the narrator apatosaurus, and is joined by such luminaries as Rhea Perlman, Martin Short, and Jay Leno. Not only did Steven Spielberg take some time off from his other dinosaur project of 1993 to executive-produce this 65-minute flick, but John Patrick Shanley (Oscar-winner for Moonstruck) wrote the script and Thomas Dolby ("She Blinded Me with Science") wrote and Little Richard belts out the movie's rocking signature tune "Roll Back the Rock." There's plenty of humor for adults and lots of dinosaur action for the kids, but the morbid big-top subplot may spook younger children. (Ages 4 and older) --Kimberly Heinrichs
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The story: four dinosaurs - Rex (John Goodman, Monsters, Inc.), Elsa (Felicity Kendall, Good Neighbors), Dweeb (Charles Fleischer, Who Framed Roger Rabbit), and Woog (Rene La Vant) - gain intelligence and are transported across time by the benevolent Captain Neweyes (Walter Cronkite) to fulfill the wishes of the children. Dropped into New York City, they befriend Louie (Joey Shea) and Cecilia (Yeardley Smith, The Simpsons) - two young runaways from opposite sides of the tracks - and find themselves fleeing from panicked grown-ups as they search for the Museum of Natural History...only to find themselves the target of the spooky ringmaster, Professor Screweyes (Kenneth Mars, Young Frankenstein), who harbors sinister plans for them.
"We're Back!" is a children's movie, first and foremost, and was most likely aimed at kids no older than eight or nine. In other words, while there is a decent amount of action, scary parts, and humor, it's all pretty inoffensive. A lot of problems are solved by talking and understanding rather than action scenes, and you know from the start that there's going to be a happy ending. This rather harmless approach carries over to the characters themselves: the dinosaurs are very cuddly, and generally everybody is proved to be very warm-hearted - almost too warm-hearted for me, and probably likewise so for anybody else who grew up watching animated films where peril was commonplace.
The performances and production, overall, tend to be pretty good. In addition to main stars, the voice cast boasts Jay Leno, Martin Short (Treasure Planet), Julia Child, and Blaze Berdahl (Ghostwriter) in supporting roles, creating one of the most unique voice ensembles for any film, and they all tend to do good jobs with their roles. Though it retains the trademark big-budget style prevalent in "Fievel" and could still go toe-to-toe with the visuals of a Disney movie at the time, the animation has a flaw: the outlines of human characters' features occasionally stutter in between frames, making a nose or mouth look less defined from one second to the next and on occasion simply disappearing. It's not a debilitating error, but is a bit disappointing to watch happen repeatedly.
What the film does hold in its favor, though, is its ability to inspire the inner child. I know it sounds corny, but consider: who hasn't dreamed of having a special friend that no one else had or seeing a real dinosaur in your own backyard, or having that dinosaur as a special friend? That wonderful ability to warm hearts that producer Steven Spielberg forsook when he began to tackle adult fare is well at work here, with New York City seeming as magical a place as any wonderland. The film pulls off the nostalgia factor incredibly, taking us back to a time before animation turned to 3D and we had Shrek shoved down our throats. I'm not sure how much this means to other people, but this aspect saved the movie for me.
In all, it's not difficult to see why "We're Back!" didn't do very well when it was first released, but why it remains little more than a cult feature continues to perplex me. Disregard the technicalities of my three-star rating and know that the film's strengths outweigh its faults effectively, and that the movie is a secret opus for fans of classical animation. Don't deprive yourself - give it a look.
Even so, this "dinosaur's story" is a bit of a curious creation. Based on a children's book by author Hudson Talbott, the movie involves a quartet of prehistoric giants who are taken aboard the spaceship of an elderly time-traveler, Captain NewEyes. The foursome is treated to some sort of cereal that transforms them from vicious but dumb monsters into talking creatures with human qualities (think Barney and his friends). Before long, the four dinosaurs--with the names of Rex, Elsa, Dweeb, and Woog--are whisked to modern day New York City where they meet two children: tough-talking (but secretly soft-hearted) Louie and a neglected cutie named Cecilia, both of who are running away from home. Together with their new pals, the dinosaurs crash the Thanksgiving Parade (which involves a very silly song-and-dance number), escape the police, and get sidetracked by the evil owner of a fright-show circus (NewEyes' brother ScrewEyes)... all before arriving at their destination, the Museum of Natural History, where the dinosaurs are to become real-life talking exhibits for many children.
The plot, such as it is, is pretty wishy-washy, and the routine execution barely elevates WE'RE BACK above anything but your typical, average kids animated fare. The animation itself is mostly serviceable and includes some interesting computer-generated effects, but it's not up to Disney quality... and at times I felt that there were some frames stolen from a more superior animated film about dinosaurs, Don Bluth's THE LAND BEFORE TIME. John Patrick Shanley's screenplay has few lines to appeal to older viewers, much less a plethora of characters one are likely to remember. The four dinosaurs, for instance, are your typical talking animals that, while cuddly and likeable, never develop into fully realized personalities, and their supporting co-stars don't get much to do either.
Probably the only character who does show any depth is Louie, the freckle-faced street kid. When we first meet Louie he acts pretty fresh and self-centered; but as the movie develops, his more soft qualities shine through, whether he saves Rex from drowning or befriending Cecilia to cheer her up. He even admits, in a tearful sequence, how he uses his tough demeanor to hide his own fear. If anything, it's really Louie who steals the movie and makes it worthwhile. His relationship with Cecilia (who is less well-defined than Louie, but that's irrelevant) although more romantic than it has to be, is very nicely handled and is the highest point of the film. (The moments where Cecilia flirts with Louie are quite funny.) Equally pleasing is the characterization of Professor ScrewEyes, the villain of the piece. He only shows up in the second half of the picture, but commands his screen-time with devious manipulation and pure nastiness. In addition, his demeanor of tapping into people's nightmares and a hypnotic stare render him a menace to be feared. ScrewEyes may be a bizarre baddie, but he works all the same.
That leads to another problem of WE'RE BACK. The first half is lighthearted (and outrageously unbelievable) silliness, but midway through the picture becomes dark--particularly the scenes involving ScrewEyes' fright-show circus, which are executed in a way that may be too intense for small fry. This unbalanced shift in tone calls the film's target audience into question. Kids in the 5-12 age group should be fine, but older viewers expecting more may find it to be too silly and uninspired. And the very young, too, could be traumatized by the aforementioned scary scenes.
And yet, in spite of saying all this, there is something rather likeable about WE'RE BACK--A DINOSAUR'S STORY. Its plot is outrageous, sure, and the movie is little more than just a cute, forgettable time-passer. But it has its heart in the right place, and there are some tender moments--one sequence, in which Rex and company make the ultimate sacrifice to save Louie and Cecilia from eternal life as chimps in ScrewEyes' circus, is genuinely moving, especially when Rex's gentle touch reverts the kids to normal. This is done in a very subtle, effective way that stayed with me for a long while. The voice cast includes some solid performances, too, notably John Goodman as the gruff yet gentle Rex, Walter Cronkite as Captain NewEyes (and yes, he says his trademark "that's the way it is" toward the end), and Martin Short in a cameo as a comic clown. The standouts are Joey Shea, who sizzles with attitude and likeability as Louie, and Kenneth Mars (Triton in THE LITTLE MERMAID and Grandpa Longneck in the LAND BEFORE TIME sequels), chewing the scenery as the fearsome ScrewEyes. Yeardley Smith's Cecilia is the one voice I take issue with--she doesn't exactly sound like a young girl, and most of the other voices--Jay Leno, Rhea Perlman, Charles Fleischer, and Julia Child--all seem to be just in the movie for the sake of, well, being there. The musical score by James Horner is beautiful, although at times it does sound like a rehash of many of his other scores (a trait not uncommon with most of the composer's work, it seems).
In short, WE'RE BACK is passable fare as a family animated film; it's cute and funny, but that's about it.
Enter two lovable children who befriend the dinosaurs and stumble into the evil clutches of Professor Sreweyes Eccentric Circus located in Central Park. The dinosaurs come to the rescue!
Not a "Disney classic" type film, but it is cute fun and didn't lose my interest. Although the last half may be dark and gloomier than the first part, it doesn't seem to me to be any more traumatic than the real Disney villians true nature or force.
Although some big names are voiced here in bit parts, I can see where it may have some inside jokes from producers for casting Jay Leno or Julia Child. After all, the tale does take place during Thanksgiving holiday, and having Julia is like having a real chef in the house. (Ha,ha).
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