Hello, friends in time, and welcome to a regular feature on Cinema 52 where I put my weekly viewing of Back to the Future on hold and watch another movie featuring time travel for comparison. It may not keep me sane, but it will probably always involve one guy shouting, “This doesn’t make any sense!” And that’s good enough for me.
WE’RE BACK! A DINOSAUR’S STORY (1993)
Cinemanaut Bill: Hey gang! I know you love the normal Time Out format that you don’t actually care about, but today’s flick, We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story, has a special significance to two of the other Cinemanauts, so I figured I would graciously allow them to speak in my column and tell you why. I’m watching it for the time travel, of course, but John is here because he’s been watching Jurassic Park once a week since January of this year. Say hello, John.
Cinemanaut John: Hello.
Cinemanaut Bill: Ha ha! Riveting stuff, John. We’re also joined by future Cinemanaut Adam, who hasn’t written anything for the site yet, but now’s his chance to speak to the world, because We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story was one of his most absolute favoritest movies as a kid. How’s tricks, A-Bomb?
Cinemanaut Adam: Trix are for kids, Bear Claw! I was indeed a huge fan of We’re Back! when I was five or six, so much so that I reenacted the movie into a tape recorder playing all the characters. The main boy, Louis, basically lived out one of my five-year-old fantasies of having adventures with dinosaurs and a cute girl.
Bill: You skirt-chasing son of a bitch! Alright, so dinosaurs. Time traveling to the future. Thankfully for me, no paradoxes, just a classic Fish Out of Water story. But before they do the time warp, let’s talk about how their lizard instincts are radically violated.
John: Well, as a golfing T. Rex informs a random baby bird, back in the distant past, dinosaurs were savage monsters killing for food; nature, red in tooth and claw, and all that. Then, along comes a weird-ass little alien who force-feeds them Brain Grain. This magical cereal boosts their intelligence, makes them look all cuddly, and teaches them English. This is all very confusing. On a scientific note, Tyrannosaurus, Pterodactylus, Triceratops, and Parasaurolophus, the four species involved here, are all from the Late Cretaceous, so they could conceivably all have been harvested at the same location.
Adam: Yeah, very true, although Captain Neweyes having a giant time machine boat means he could grab them from anywhere. It did bother me viewing the movie as an adult that the benevolent Captain Neweyes, who lives in this utopian future that espouses a whole “one world” philosophy, has no problem killing cows! He feeds all of them hot dogs! Even the herbivores! John, is a Pterodactylus a herbivore?
John: I think they ate mostly fish. But yeah, Captain Neweyes has got a really creepy vibe, looking into children’s minds with his freaky wish-radio. He’s very John Hammond-esque. He’s this eccentric millionaire who uses his fortune to bring dinosaurs back to the earth for the pleasure of children. But instead of going the “clone them and put them in a zoo” route, he opts to go back in time, brain-rape some dinos, and airdrop them into New York.
Bill: I don’t care how much kids love dinosaurs, they don’t want them plummeting out of the sky scrotum-first.
John: Yes, I did. Who the hell are “The Dead End Kids?”
Adam: A group of child actors from the late ’30s/early ’40s who played a lot of “Noo Yawk”-type street urchins; Louis gives off that vibe big time (a “dees,” “dems,” and “dose” style of speech). Louis also seems pretty nonchalant about meeting a bunch of talking dinosaurs. What do you think, Bill?
Bill: I don’t think anybody, human or reptile, acts appropriately. I mean, let me sort this out: so kids wish really hard to see dinosaurs, so Captain Brain-Rape turns them into wimpy cartoons, but dammit, didn’t these precious youngsters want to see real dinosaurs? When they’re dancing down the street in the parade (we’ll get to that), all the boys and girls think they’re fake. So, mission not accomplished. And from the dinosaurs’ point of view, what the hell? I don’t even get why our world would be interesting to them, especially more interesting than the fact that they can now sing shitty songs in perfect English.
Adam: Well, Cecilia “Not Lisa Simpson” Nuthatch (good porn name!) does freak the fuck out when Louis and Elsa the British Pterodactyl dive bomb onto her roof.
John: Of course, within five minutes she’s fine with everything, and has decided to run off with Louis to join the circus (because parents suck, apparently). Now that’s a character decision that rings true, and isn’t stupid or forced in any way.
Adam: “Rushed” is a great word to describe the whole movie; I feel like it dashes from set piece to set piece with little transition and some gags for the kids. As for the musical number, dammit, that thing is catchy as hell! It is kind of strange that they have Rex sing, since there are no other musical numbers in the film; I feel like it was either there for padding or some suit felt the animated kids’ movie needed a song.
Bill: Correct! Sorry, it’s nice to let you guys write my articles for me.
John: Ugh. Seriously, though, I found that song to be awful, irritating, and no fun in any way.
Bill: Um, affirmative. It’s certainly no “Johnny B. Goode,” right? Nobody? Okay, speaking of songs from Back to the Future, what’s up with the power of love saving the day here? I mean, the rules of Brain Grain are weird enough. The dinos eat it and it makes them smart, but they also look more like cartoons and less like scary monsters, because brains and appearance are linked, kids! But when they get captured by Screweyes and turned back into their normal, regular, fuck-up-some-living-meat selves, a child’s tears make them animated love muffins again. Is this a metaphor for something? Don’t be yourself? Drugs are good?
John: If anything, I got a “prescriptions are bad, breakfast cereal is good” message. Neweyes has a cereal that grants super intelligence, Screweyes has a medical-looking pill that takes it away. I guess these were also linked with hopes and fears. So on one side you have cereal, intelligence, dinosaurs, and hope; on the other you have medication, ignorance, monsters, and fear.
Adam: Don’t forget Bill’s worst fear: creepy child ghosts!
Bill: Yes. That was a terror-box full of aborted souls.
John: Bill is of course referring to Professor Screweyes’ fear radio. Why the ‘eyes brothers both seem to have a desire to peer into children’s minds with old-timey entertainment devices is beyond me. In any event, the answer to both “what do kids wish for” and “what do kids fear” appears to be dinosaurs. So perhaps it’s a deep look at our fear of having our wishes fulfilled. Or maybe it’s a pile of incoherent shit. Thoughts?
Bill: Like most piles of incoherent shit for kids, it really tries to pretend it’s saying something.
Adam: I think it is mostly an exercise in wish fulfillment (Yay! Dinosaurs!) and overly long gags (Tubbs the clown’s whole character is a walking embodiment of the “Big Lipped Alligator Moment” trope). I find what it doesn’t say to be more fascinating, particularly with Prof. Screweyes. He is introduced as a simple bad guy, which is sort of reinforced by his appearance (shady and weird), and he does some despicable things like pressing children into service and turning them into apes. His back story is not given outside of being Neweyes’ evil brother. I did find the crow thing kind of weird. I thought they were his evil servants until one of them sabotaged his creepy circus and then killed him when they got him alone. Any thoughts, gents?
Bill: I think an animation student really really really wanted to make a guy disappear by covering him in crows and jammed his idea into this movie by any means necessary. It is far too cool an image in far too undeserving a movie.
John: It also works for the film’s “your fears will kill you/make you stupid” theme. Though if that’s the point they wanted to make, I’m not sure why they needed any dinosaurs. Or time travel, for that matter. Oh, hey, isn’t that why we’re talking about this in the first place?
Bill: Time travel. It happened. Good night, everybody!
Want more time travel? Head on over to the Time Out archive.