Favorite Dinosaur Movies - Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Every week in /Answers, we answer a new pop culture-related question. In this edition, tying in with the release of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, we ask, “What are your favorite dinosaur movies that aren’t Jurassic Park?”

Hoai-Tran Bui – The Land Before Time

I never understood how kids could fall in love with dinosaurs after seeing Jurassic Park. There was the awe of seeing those gigantic beasts at the beginning, of course, but then they turn into murderous monsters — the exact type that would haunt a 5-year-old kids nightmares for weeks. But the moppish and sweet dinosaurs at the center of The Land Before Time? That I understood.

There’s a dark melancholy that permeates Don Bluth’s The Land Before Time, which follows a young Longneck named Littlefoot as he tries to reach a mythical oasis with a group of young friends after his mother tragically dies. The Land Before Time registered a sense of real danger that you couldn’t experience in a Disney film, while keeping things warm and sentimental for the soft pre-adolescents who were its main audience. I mean, it’s a movie about dinosaurs after all — the world’s most dangerous predators. Somehow, The Land Before Time made them seem endearing without dulling their claws. It was true to the nature of each dinosaur but made their kind immensely relatable to its human audience. It’s an astonishing balance to keep, and The Land Before Time does it gloriously.

Ethan Anderton – Land of the Lost

Land of the Lost bombed hard at the box office back in 2009, but I think if it didn’t have the title of a family friendly classic TV series that it might have been received a little bit better. This movie isn’t much of a Land of the Lost movie, but it’s still a hilarious comedy that just so happens to take Will Ferrell, Danny McBride and Anna Friel to another world where dinosaurs still exist. The dinosaurs in this movie are fairly cartoonish and clearly not made to look as realistic as those in Jurassic Park, but considering the comedic tone, that seems to be done on purpose, mostly as a tribute to the special effects of the original series.

Of course, the dinosaurs aren’t what make me love Land of the Lost. It’s the fact that this borders on being an adult comedy with a high concept that is full of some great laughs. If more people gave Land of the Lost a chance, I think they would be pleasantly surprised by how entertaining it is. The only thing that could make this movie would be John C. Reilly, but since we got to see him in Kong: Skull Island, I suppose it all evens out.

Chris Evangelista – Dinosaur Wars

In the early 19th century, scientists Edward Cope and O.C. Marsh ended up in a war over dinosaurs. The two men were in constant competition to unearth, name and lay claim to no dinosaur fossils. The two men hated each other, and began engaging in ways to sabotage one another. As the years wore on, Cope and Marsh refused to let their rivalry die, and the rivalry would essentially ruin their lives. In other words, this story is sort of like The Prestige, but instead of two warring magicians, it’s about two warring dinosaur bone hunters.

The story of Cope and Marsh is chronicled in the PBS American Experience documentary series episode Dinosaur Wars. As a Wired article on the episode recounts, “Distrustful of each other, Cope and Marsh used fossil specimens as weapons to attack the reputation of their rival. They regularly criticized each other and tried to one-up each other in scientific journals, and things seemed to only get worse as they vied for the rich fossil treasures littering the western expanse of the country.” This story is pretty damn fascinating, and also provides insight into the early days of paleontology.

Vanessa Bogart – King Kong (2005)

Prior to this week, I hadn’t seen Peter Jackson’s King Kong in about 10 years, and yet I had zero hesitation picking it for this week’s answer. In all of the many things I had forgotten about this movie, two things remained burned into my memory: One was that it makes me cry like a baby, and the other is that the battle between King Kong and the T-Rexes is one of the single coolest things I have ever seen.

King Kong paints a different picture of dinosaurs. Like any great supporting role, the impact of their scenes far exceeds their amount of screen time. We didn’t come to see them, they aren’t majestic or awe-inspiring, they behave more like a pack of wild dogs, and that is all they can be, because on Skull Island, they are not the top of the food chain. Monsters vs people is scary, but beast vs beast is just plain awesome. The savagery of the battle feels wholly uncivilized, and the image of the Kong fighting two of the T-Rexes while entangled in vines dangling high above the ground is one of the most ridiculously fantastic and completely bananas fight sequences I have ever witnessed.

Ben Pearson – Toy Story That Time Forgot

Technically, Toy Story That Time Forgot is a 22-minute short film, not a full-length feature. So I’m cheating a little. But if you’ve seen this delightful little addition to the Toy Story mythos, you know why I chose it – dinosaurs take center stage here in a way they haven’t in any other entry in the franchise.

In keeping with the best Toy Stories, the whole thing revolves around a quest for identity. In this case, Trixie the Triceratops (Kristen Schaal) is in the spotlight; she doesn’t understand why the toys’ owner, Bonnie, never uses her as a dinosaur during their play time. The banter between Trixie and fellow dinosaur Rex (Wallace Shawn) may have been enough to justify this choice on its own, but things get taken up a notch when Bonnie brings the toys on a play date to her friend Mason’s house, where an entire room is filled with a dino-themed play set called “Battlesaurs.”

Watching familiar characters be immersed in this dangerous new world is loads of fun, especially seeing Trixie and Rex interact with dinosaurs like the hilariously over-the-top evil Cleric (Steve Purcell) and the battle-ready Reptillus Maximus (Kevin McKidd), who forms a special and heart-warming bond with Trixie as the story progresses. I won’t ruin the ending for you, but the entire thing is funny, charming, and absolutely delightful in the way that the best Toy Story entries always are. It was released as a Christmas special in 2014 and it’s since become annual viewing for my wife and I every holiday season.

Matt Donato – The Good Dinosaur

Wow. I didn’t actually realize how much the Jurassic Park franchise has monopolized dinosaur cinema until this week. There are a few so-bad-they’re-almost-good titles like Jurassic Games (Hunger Games meets Death Race meets The Condemned meets Gamer meets an Asylum budget). Other titles feature badass dinos like the T-Rex in Kung Fury who reminds us all “Teamwork is very important!” after beating Hitler’s mechanical golden eagle. But my favorite dinosaur movie *outside* of Jurassic Park’s domain (and not The Land Before Time or Land Of The Lost, both claimed before me)? I’m going to throw y’all a curveball. Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur.

This poor, misunderstood prehistoric release had a rough-and-tumble lifecycle. First it was delayed from 2014 to 2015, including a complete overhaul to the voice cast (scrapped, recast, re-recorded). It stands at 76% on Rotten Tomatoes according to critics, but stumbles with a 65% Audience Score. It only went on to gross about $332 million against a $200 million budget, chalking up an “L” for Pixar in comparison to their record-setting norms. It’s the black sheep – or stegosaurus – of Pixar’s slate, but I can’t understand why.

We follow a cowardly young Apatosaurus named Arlo (Raymond Ochoa) and his adolescent caveman pet Spots (man becomes the animal). Arlo and Spots find themselves lost and far from home after the death of Poppa, which Arlo continously blames himself for. I mean, it’s Pixar. We can’t escape some kind of emotional wallop, right? Only The Good Dinosaur reminds us again and again of Arlo’s grief, motifs about death and overall abuse to the film’s young protagonist. I’m not sure if Pixar’s ever told a darker tale, and that’s what I found so heroically honest.

We’re also talking about a film where a child dinosaur and his feral human companion trip *balls* on psychedelic rotten fruit. This bug-eyed freakout alone is worth any price of admission. Add to the highlights Pixar’s greatest digital achievement at the time (since recrownded), a fresh rawness in open-wound storytelling and T-Rexes with a soft side. It’s not Ratatouille or Toy Story, but it’s also not to be written off as an out-and-out Pixar failure. Children get the fluffy build-up act from every other movie that hits cinemas. What’s wrong with one that tells life how it is, lumps and all?

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