Had a messy divorce? Got an ex who's pushy about getting to spend more time with the kids? Then this is the film you'll want to recommend they watch whilst they're there.

With its combination of bad CGI animation, intensely endearing characters, non-stop action and crowning layer of existential angst, Dinotasia is a film many kids will go crazy for, and some will be crying about it for weeks afterwards. This is the circle of life writ large - not just individual deaths (though there are many, often abrupt and brutal) but the death of a whole collection of species, a whole era of being - and with the promise that some inevitable doom is quite probably on its way for us, too. It will prompt every conversation a parent most dreads. Then the kids will ask to watch it again.

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It's really not clear who this film was intended for. Adults will generally be put off by the poor quality graphics, reminiscent of those awful late Eighties programmes made when the BBC first got excited about the potential of CGI. That said, whilst they're not convincing, the film works as a cartoon, and its roughness adds character to the different individuals we meet along the way. There Krentz and Nelson show real talent. In moments they can get us attached to a personable, playful little dinosaur we could easily watch for an hour - only to have its jaw bloodily broken or have it swallowed by a giant frog lurking in the mist. The addition of Herzog, whose narration is sparse but highly effective, gives us a tale that, for all its charm, is unrelentingly grim. There's a gallows humour to it that will thrill Herzog fans. The average six year old, however, is unlikely to be ready for this.

What Dinotasia will do very effectively is feed kids' fascination with dinosaurs. It really does deliver in terms of adventure, in part because it doesn't hold back on violence. Like a Seventies kids' cartoon it delivers its take on the world remarkably straight (it even has a scene about drug use). But though it's never overtly patronising, it is intensely anthropomorphic, particularly in its take on dinosaur family life. This may help kids to engage with the characters but it doesn't fit very well with what palaeontology tells us. Kids with an interest in the scientific side of the story should subsequently be directed to other resources.

Probably the best thing about the film is that, unlike most dinosaur or animal-centered movies, it doesn't have any tedious humans whose petty dramas intrude on the plot. It does have plenty of Hollywood-style narrative and if you combine this with an expectation that the worst is likely to happen, you'll be able to predict most of the action. There's romance against the odds, there's family feuding, there's grizzled outsider bonding with orphaned child. There's also getting torn apart by crocodilians or smashed to death on rocks. This is definitely not a film for everyone, but if it hits the spot for you, you'll love it.

Reviewed on: 25 Aug 2012
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An animated epic telling the history of dinosaurs through CGI animated vignettes, with sardonic commentary by Werner Herzog.
Amazon link

Director: David Krentz, Erik Nelson

Writer: Erik Nelson, David Krentz

Starring: Werner Herzog

Year: 2012

Runtime: 83 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US


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