The dawn of a new era: an old way of life is about to die out after a violent and unwelcome explosion in the world. I’m talking, of course, about the unstoppable force of CG wiping out traditional forms of animation like a meteor crashing to earth. This is also the plot of Dinosaur, Disney’s underwhelming venture into the world of CG animation. Gone is the hand drawn beauty of their finest work, in comes blocky, glossy character design and the slight sense of soullessness behind the dead eyes. Admittedly, Dinosaur is a hybrid of CG animation and real locations, so a lot of it looks very pretty, but it heralds a new age and the passing of an old way, that is thoroughly unsavoury.
Before you all shout ‘PIXAR’ at me, I’m aware that there are several good computer animated films out there. I love How To Train Your Dragon, Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, Brave, the Toy Story Trilogy and a few other Pixars. I’m even a fan of lesser loved CG animations like Surf’s Up and Rise of the Guardians. The medium doesn’t mean the film is going to be either bad or good. But it’s just not the same, and I couldn’t quite tell you why. I think part of it is that I’m yet to see a CG film that captures wonder or heart in quite the same way as the arguably more escapist traditional animation. There’s almost a sense that you are watching a series of codes instead of a work of art; it feels cold, in spite of incredible advances in technology allowing for some truly breathtaking sights – I’m thinking fantastical scottish landscapes in Brave, the flying sequences in Dragons – it feels more calculated than imagined.
This feels unfair to the many people that put a lot of work and creativity into making a computer animated film, but I’m just trying to explain why it doesn’t work quite as well for me. Animation, to me, is about transporting you to a totally different time and place – animation can explain whatever the mind can conceive. Arguably CG makes that more possible, able to create places with astonishing realism, but it loses some of the charm and heart that takes it there in the first place. I think I resent it more because it gradually led to the end of traditional animation at Disney, and I think the studio lost a vital part of its heritage and culture in doing so. Progress is not always the best option, particularly if it means discarding a valuable history and entire art form. It doesn’t help that Disney are yet to make a computer animated film that can sit alongside the best the studio have created using traditional animation. Tangled is decent, but I’ll come to that in December.
Anyway, this is all beside the point because the medium is irrelevant if the story is boring and boooooy is the story boring for Dinosaur. The problem is that the dinosaurs speak, and when they do they say very little of interest. The dinosaurs get wiped out by an asteroid crash landing on earth, and one iguanodon saves his family of monkeys and takes them, along with a herd of other generic dinosaurs that all look the same, to a paradisical land of green grass and fresh water. Along the way he teaches leadership through compassion, argues with another dinosaur who teaches survival of the fittest, and falls in love with another iguanodon. There is not one single element of the plot that is surprising and not one character that is interesting. Even the choice of dinosaur is boring – why choose iguanodon when your main character could be a triceratops?
I’ll make one concession for both Dinosaur and CG animation: it has the capacity for the spectacular. The villainous not-T-Rexes that chase the herd are properly menacing, and a showdown in the rain captures almost Jurassic Park like tension. These moments are few and far between, however. If I’ve used an article about Dinosaur as a bandwagon for my opinions on CG animation that’s because the film itself isn’t really worthy of much discussion, which says all you need to know about it.