A Carnotaurus ambushes an infant Parasaurolophus triggering a stampede, which forces an Iguanodon mother to abandon her nest. The one surviving egg journeys through several predicaments via the flight of a pterosaur, before ending up on a far away island populated by lemurs. Plio names the hatched baby Aladar and raises him. Years later, Aladar and the lemurs take part in the mating ritual, where Zini goes without a mate. Moments after the ritual ends, a giant meteor strikes and destroy the island, spreading numerous exploding fireballs. Aladar, Plio, Zini, Yar and Suri flee and jump across the sea to the mainland. They mourn for their losses before moving on.
While crossing the deserted wastelands, they are ambushed by a pack of Velociraptors. After escaping, the family comes across a remaining multi-species herd of dinosaurs led by Kron and Bruton, who are on a journey to reach the "Nesting Grounds", a valley said to be untouched by the meteor. As Aladar and the lemurs befriend a trio of elderly dinosaurs (Brachiosaurus Baylene, Styracosaurus Eema and doglike Euoplocephalus Url), Kron permits them to follow the herd. Together, they migrate across the desert to a lake they have relied on for past trips. Though it has seemingly dried up by the meteor, Aladar and Baylene discover the buried water under the dried surface, saving the herd from dehydration. Impressed by Aladar's compassionate ways, Kron's younger sister Neera begins to fall in love with him.
Meanwhile, two Carnotaurus pick up the herd's trail and begin stalking them for food. Bruton and an Iguanodon Scout search for water, but are attacked by the Carnotaurs. Bruton escapes badly wounded, while the Scout is eaten by one of the Carnotaurs. Bruton returns to the herd and warns Kron that they are being followed, putting the entire herd in grave danger. Kron picks up the pace and quickly evacuates the herd, leaving Aladar, the lemurs, the older dinosaurs and Bruton behind, while the Carnotaurus are in pursuit some distance away. During a rainstorm, the stragglers spend the night in the cave, where Plio heals Bruton, and the Carnotaurs find and attack them. Bruton saves the others and sacrifices himself, causing a cave in to kill the female Carnotaurus in the process. As the rest of the group venture deeper through the cave, the male Carnotaurus having survived, resumes searching for the herd.
Aladar loses hope when they reach a dead end, but the others convince him to keep going, relating how he inspired them to do the same. After they knock down the dead end together and successfully find the Nesting Grounds on the other side. Eema sees a large wall of rocks blocking the original entryway to the valley. Knowing that the herd will die attempting to climb over it, Aladar rushes off alone to find them, and he gets pursued by the surviving Carnotaurus. As Aladar arrives to catch up with the herd and suggests the safer way to the valley, Kron furiously attacks him until Neera stops them. The herd decides to abandon Kron and takes Aladar as their new leader. As they prepare to leave, the Carnotaurus confronts them. Aladar rallies the herd to stand together, and they bellow their way past the predator. The Carnotaurus pursues and injures Kron on the ledge of rocks. Aladar and Neera fight against the Carnotaurus until he falls off the cliff to his death. Kron dies from his injuries, with Aladar and Neera mourning for him.
The herd are led back to the Nesting Grounds as their new home. A new generation of dinosaurs hatches sometime later, along with Aladar and Neera's children. The lemurs find more of their kind, and soon they begin embarking on a new life together.D. B. Sweeney as Aladar, a brave and compassionate Iguanodon who is adopted into a family of lemurs, and helps the herd of dinosaurs migrate and survive. He is the adoptive son of Plio, the adoptive grandson of Yar, the adoptive nephew of Zini, and the adoptive brother of Suri.
Max Casella as Zini, Aladar's best friend and wisecracking sidekick. He is also the adoptive uncle of Aladar, the uncle of Suri, the younger brother of Plio and the son of Yar.
Evan Sabara as Young Zini.
Alfre Woodard as Plio, a lemur matriarch who cares for her family. She is the daughter of Yar, the older sister of Zini, the mother of Suri, and the adoptive mother of Aladar.
Ossie Davis as Yar, a lemur patriarch whose occasional gruff demeanor is just a front covering his more compassionate interior. He is the father of Plio and Zini, the grandfather of Suri and the adoptive grandfather of Aladar.
Hayden Panettiere as Suri, Aladar's adoptive sister, Plio's daughter, Zini's niece and Yar's granddaughter.
Samuel E. Wright as Kron, a selfish, merciless and short-tempered Iguanodon, who is characterized by a strict adherence to social Darwinism and serves as the leader of the dinosaur herd survivors. He believes in survival of the fittest and becomes upset with Aladar.
Julianna Margulies as Neera, Kron's sister and Aladar's love interest.
Peter Siragusa as Bruton, Kron's domineering second-in-command. He initially appears to be unfriendly and bossy, but has a change of heart after being abandoned by Kron and nursed back to health by Aladar and his friends.
Joan Plowright as Baylene, an elderly, dainty and kind-hearted Brachiosaurus, who is the last of her species.
Della Reese as Eema, a wizened, elderly and slow-moving Styracosaurus.
While a dinosaur-related computer-animated film had been contemplated for over a decade, the film finally went into production when it did, as "the technology to produce the stunning visual effects" had come about - a few years before Dinosaur's eventual release in 2000. The CGI effects are coupled with "real-world backdrops to create a 'photo-realistic' look".
The crew went all around the world, in order to "record dramatic nature backgrounds" for the film, which were then "blended with the computer-animated dinosaurs". Disney said that the over-$100 million visual effects "make the film an 'instant classic'".
The concept for the film was originally conceived by Paul Verhoeven and Phil Tippett in 1988 and was pitched as a stop-motion animated film with the title Dinosaurs. The film's original main protagonist was a Styracosaurus named Woot and the main antagonist was originally a Tyrannosaurus rex named Grozni, with a small mammal named Suri as a supporting character.
The film was originally going to be much darker and violent in tone, in a style akin to a nature documentary. After Woot defeats Grozni in a final fight, the film would end with the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event, which would ultimately result in the deaths of the main dinosaur characters. Paul Verhoeven and Phil Tippett pitched the idea to Disney, only to have the idea for the film shelved away with the onset of the Disney Renaissance until the mid-1990s. Then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner, seeing the success of Pixar's first feature film Toy Story, suggested discarding the original script for the film and using computer animation as opposed to stop-motion.
Verhoeven and Tippett were removed from the project with Ralph Zondag and Eric Leighton assuming the roles of directors. The new script had an Iguanodon named Noah as the protagonist with a lemur companion named Adam, and a group of Carnotaurus as well as a rival Iguanodon named Cain playing the antagonists. The story dealt with Noah, who had the ability to see visions of the future, foreseeing the coming of an asteroid and struggling to guide a herd of other dinosaurs to safety. Further into production, Noah, Cain and Adam were renamed Aladar, Kron and Zini, and certain aspects of the story were altered further into what was later seen in the final product.
The film was originally supposed to have no dialogue at all, in part to differentiate the film from Universal Pictures' The Land Before Time (1988) with which Dinosaur shares plot similarities. Eisner insisted that the film have dialogue in order to make it more "commercially viable". A similar change was also made early in the production of The Land Before Time, which was originally intended to feature only the voice of a narrator.
The film's score was composed by James Newton Howard. Pop singer/songwriter Kate Bush reportedly wrote and recorded a song for the film to be used in the scene in which Aladar and his family mourn the destruction of their island, but due to complications, the track was ultimately not included on the soundtrack. According to HomeGround, a Kate Bush fanzine, it was scrapped when Disney asked Bush to rewrite the song and Bush refused; however, according to Disney, the song was cut from the film when preview audiences did not respond well to the track.
In Asia, pop singer Jacky Cheung's song Something Only Love Can Do, with versions sung in English, Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese, was adopted as the theme song for the film. The Countdown to Extinction attraction at Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park was renamed and re-themed to the film. It is now known as DINOSAUR. The storyline was always intended to tie in with the film, considering the usage of a Carnotaurus as the ride's antagonist and Aladar as the Iguanodon that guests rescue from the meteor and take back into the present, seen wandering the Dino Institute in Security Camera footage seen on monitors in the attraction's unloading area.
George Scribner was the original director of the film, he spent two years on it and left to join Walt Disney Imagineering. But fundamentally, the story was pretty much the same after he left. Though Eric Leighton, one of the directors, spoke about his team "want[ing] to learn as much about dinosaurs as possible", he also admitted that they would "cheat like hell" because they were not creating a documentary. A Disney press kit revealed that the film "intentionally veers from scientific fact in certain aspects".
In reality, the film cheated in multiple ways in regard to: how the "dinosaurs are depicted" and how they "are presented in an evolutionary context". The film combines the use of live-action backgrounds with computer animation of prehistoric creatures, notably the titular dinosaurs, produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation's Computer Graphics Unit that was later merged with Dream Quest Images to create Disney's The Secret Lab department. The Secret Lab department closed in 2002. Vision Crew Unlimited provided the live-action special visual effects.
After The Lion King, Disney advertised the film by "releasing the opening scene as a trailer" and was attached to Toy Story 2. The EmpireOnline project Your Guide To Disney's 50 Animated Features described this as a "smart move" because "taken by itself, the prelude to Dinosaur is an extraordinary achievement (still impressive now), showing a verdant and vibrant world teeming with darn convincing dinosaurs".
The soundtrack album was composed by James Newton Howard with vocals by Lebo M, who did vocals for The Lion King. It was released on May 5, 2000 by Walt Disney Records. Newton Howard would later compose the scores for the Disney animated features Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Treasure Planet. One track, "The Egg Travels", was heard in many trailers following the release of Dinosaur including Lilo and Stitch, Around the World in 80 Days and The Wild Thornberrys Movie.
- Inner Sanctum/The Nesting Grounds (2:57)
- The Egg Travels (2:43)
- Aladar & Neera (3:29)
- The Courtship (4:13)
- The End Of Our Island (4:00)
- They're All Gone (2:08)
- Raptors/Stand Together (5:37)
- Across The Desert (2:25)
- Finding Water (4:14)
- The Cave (3:40)
- The Carnotaur Attack (3:52)
- Neera Rescues The Orphans (1:13)
- Breakout (2:43)
- It Comes With A Pool (3:01)
- Kron & Aladar Fight (2:58)
- Epilogue (2:32)
The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 65% of critics gave the film positive reviews based on 122 reviews; the average score is 6.2/10. The consensus on the site reads: "While Dinosaur's plot is generic and dull, its stunning computer animation and detailed backgrounds are enough to make it worth a look." The rating on Metacritic from critics is 56%; 15 critics gave positive reviews, 12 gave mixed reviews, and 5 gave negative reviews. Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A" on an A+ to F scale.
Roger Ebert gave the film three stars out of four, praising the film's "amazing visuals" but criticizing the decision to make the animals talk, which he felt cancelled out the effort to make the film so realistic. Ebert wrote, "An enormous effort had been spent on making these dinosaurs seem real, and then an even greater effort was spent on undermining the illusion". Todd McCarthy of Variety called it "an eye-popping visual spectacle" that is potentially too "touchy-feely" for some audiences.
The lemurs depicted in the movie strongly resemble the sub-species Verreaux's sifaka. Biologists have raised concerns that the movie is misleading and could potentially confuse people, as it suggests lemurs (in their present evolved state) co-existed with dinosaurs over 66 million years ago. All modern strepsirrhines including lemurs are thought to have evolved from 'primitive' primates known as adapiforms during the Eocene (56 to 34 mya) or Paleocene (66 to 56 mya).
In an analysis of the film, done as part of EmpireOnline's Your Guide To Disney's 50 Animated Features, on the opening sequence it said "much of the scenery is skilfully-composited live-action, including shots of the tepui mountains that would captivate Up's Carl Fredricksen". However, it spoke negatively about the unrealistic talking dinosaurs after the opening, describing it as a "nose-dive". It said they "sound[ed] more like mallrats than terrible lizards" and that "although no-one knows what dinosaurs sound like, they definitely don't sound like that." It also disliked how the meteor hit Earth in Act 1, making the majority of the film set "in gray gravel-pits rather than the lush landscapes we were sold". It said "the animals [are] cute enough, but the script, characters and dino-action are all plodding kiddie fare", but added these faults are made up through "James Newton Howard's majestic score". It cited similarities to the 1988 dinosaur-themed Don Bluth film The Land Before Time, and the more successful prehistoric Blue Sky Studios film Ice Age (which it described as "sassier"), and added that the "images of desperately migrating dinosaurs hark back to the far greater Fantasia". The film was also deemed "inferior" to the work of Pixar.
Dinosaur opened at #1 making $38,854,851 in its first weekend from 3,257 theaters, for an average of $11,929 per theater beating Mission: Impossible 2, Gladiator, and Battlefield Earth. It had a final gross of $137,748,063 in North America which covered its production costs. The film was eventually accepted overseas earning $212,074,702 for a worldwide take of $349,822,765. The official teaser trailer to the film accompanied 102 Dalmatians and the trailer of The Emperor's New Groove.
Dinosaur was released on VHS & DVD on January 30, 2001. It was also released on 2-Disc Collector's Edition DVD that same day, with lots of special features. It was re-released on VHS in 2002. It released on high definition Blu-ray for an original widescreen presentation on September 19, 2006, becoming the first animated film to be released on the format. It was re-released on Blu-ray on February 8, 2011.
Disney Interactive released a tie-in video game on the Dreamcast, PlayStation, PC and Game Boy Color in 2000. To promote the release of Dinosaur, the Disney theme park ride "Countdown to Extinction" was renamed "DINOSAUR", and its plot, which had always prominently featured a Carnotaurus and an Iguanodon, was mildly altered so that the Iguanodon is specifically meant to be Aladar, the film's protagonist, and the plot of the ride is now about the riders traveling through time to a point just before the impact of the meteor which caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, to bring Aladar back to the present and save his life.