A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that My Pet Dinosaur is a live-action film about the surprising appearance of prehistoric animals in a modern-day setting, an evil military force who is on the attack, and a boy grieving for his father. Though the film was made in Australia, events depicted are in small-town America. In addition to the action-packed clashes between the US military, the creatures, and the kids, the movie deals with a family in trouble and a misguided attempt "to sacrifice a few to save many." The mostly reptilian animals, which roar and menace, are subject to assaults by gunfire and armed drones. Kids are chased, held against their will, and threatened. A few swear words (i.e., "pissed off," "hell," "crap") as well as insults and taunts (i.e., "moron," "idiot," "douche-bag") are heard. Only suitable for middle grades and up who are at ease with real versus pretend violence. (Spoiler alert: a sequence in which well-loved dinosaur is shot multiple times, tranquilized, and then found alive but hanging by chains from the roof of a facility may be disturbing even for some older kids.)
What's the story?
In MY PET DINOSAUR, Jake Emory (Jordan Julieu), a middle school student, adopts a mini-dinosaur that arrives on his desk via a botched scientific experiment. Keeping little "Magnus" a secret is an impossible task, especially since the creature seems to get bigger very quickly. Jake's home is tense enough. He and his hostile older brother Mike (Harrison Saunders) have not yet recovered from their dad's death two years earlier from a cancer with mysterious origins. In fact, the town is now known as a disease cluster and is being investigated by an important scientist. Keeping Magnus safe from a villainous military colonel and his armed men is also an impossible task. It takes a team of Jake and his friends, including Abbie (Annabel Wolfe), his very special new neighbor, to help unravel the mystery of an ever-widening onslaught of extinct creatures from the past, and to unmask the military criminal whose cruelty and misguided efforts to "save the planet" threaten everyone.
Is it any good?
It isn't the low-budget attempt to recreate a pantheon of prehistoric animals that sinks this earnest effort, it's the routine story, a number of subpar performances, and the ungraceful editing. Far from original, My Pet Dinosaur is a derivative entry in the science fiction subgenre: "boys on bicycles uncover a sinister plot involving aliens or beasts or evil scientists."
The dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures -- particularly little Magnus evolving from baby to adult -- are actually endearing, throwbacks to early efforts before Spielberg and Jurassic Park became the gold standard of such creature features. Still, for kids who are new to this well-worn plot and the cliches of kids still grieving for a lost parent then reconciling with their troubled families, it may be enough to engage them. Caution (and spoiler alert): some of the cruelty perpetrated on Jake's lovable pet may be too much for young or highly sensitive kids.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the violence in My Pet Dinosaur. Which was depicted as most scary: the prehistoric animals or the Colonel and his men? How did you feel when Magnus was attacked? Did the violence go too far for you? Why or why not?
With so many cinematic achievements in high-tech special effects, CGI, etc. in big-budget movies, are you willing to accept low-budget or primitive techniques such as those seen in this movie if the story is compelling? Why or why not?
How did this movie portray the U.S. Military? Do you think that films like this one tarnish the image of the armed forces? Why do you think the military is so often portrayed as villainous? In what ways is it an "easy" target?
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