A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story is a '90s animated movie that is best for kids who clearly understand the difference between real and pretend violence. Released in theaters by Steven Spielberg's company in 1993 just after he created Jurassic Park, this movie was meant to bring the dinosaur phenomenon to kids. It's a sweet story with clever characters and laughs, but it has a lot of cartoon (mostly exaggerated) violence. The dinosaurs are shown in two ways: as gentle, helpful creatures and as powerful, destructive beasts. Characters encounter a scary villain whose main objective is to capitalize upon the fears of children; he operates a radio station called "Fright Radio." There are spooky, dark images; a cackling bad guy; and characters in danger (falls, dinos captured and caged, bats, dragon fire). Of special note is the array of fun, quirky voice actors who populate the film, including Walter Cronkite (in a substantial featured role), Julia Child, Martin Short, and Jay Leno, among others.
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What's the story?
Based on the book by Hudson Talbott, WE'RE BACK! A DINOSAUR'S STORY tells the tale of four prehistoric dinosaurs, headed by Rex (John Goodman), who time-travel to New York City, 20th-century style. A benevolent scientist, Captain New Eyes (Walter Cronkite), has traveled millennia to bring dinosaurs to the modern world. The creator of Wish Radio, Captain New Eyes knows that kids everywhere are entranced by and wish to see the ancient creatures. With the help of "Brain Grain," a cereal he's invented, the Captain turns the dinos into gentle, articulate, fun-loving beasts who eagerly join him. New York is full of wonders, not the least of which are two adorable human kids -- a runaway (Joey Shea) and a poor, little rich girl (Yeardly Smith) -- who tag along and enjoy the ride as the dinosaurs set off to find a sympathetic peer of New Eyes at the Museum of Natural History, the flighty but lovable Dr. Julianne Bleeb (Julia Child). But trouble overtakes the crew in the person of Captain New Eyes' brother, Professor Screweyes (Kenneth Mars), whose private domain, "The Eccentric Circus," aims to scare and frighten everyone. Unlike Wish Radio, Screweyes has invented "Fright Radio" to take revenge on a world that has cost him an eye. He believes the dinosaurs, turned back into their ferocious selves via his invention "Brain Drain," will be the centerpiece of his malevolent circus. Will Rex and company escape the clutches of the evil Screweyes? Will Stubbs the Clown (a wonderful Martin Short) help save the day?
Is it any good?
In spite of an abundance of characters, a weak musical production number, and an often tangled, overloaded story, there's still something to appreciate here. Particularly enjoyable are some of the surprising voice actors, a terrific Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade as the dinosaurs masquerade as floats, and two engaging kid characters from the Big Apple. Lots of frightening images and a wicked circus maestro who tries to create mayhem in Central Park make the film problematic for little kids or sensitive ones who have not yet learned to distinguish real from imaginary scares. As a theatrical feature in 1993, the movie was neither a box office nor a critical success, but for family home viewing it's clever enough, visually appealing enough, and brisk enough to make it satisfying.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why kids love dinosaurs. Which characteristics do they have that kids admire (being powerful or having unusual looks)? Do you think the fact that they're so big and scary but also extinct makes them easier to like than actual living creatures?
What did Louie and Cecilia, the two kids in New York City, wish for? How did their adventure with the dinosaurs help each of their wishes come true?
If you could travel backward or forward in time, where would you go? Write a short piece about an imaginary adventure through time with you as the traveler.
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