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‘We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story’ (G)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 26, 1993

You can feel the Spielberg touch everywhere in "We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story," the softspoken kiddie counterpart to his scarier blockbuster "Jurassic Park." This is about dinosaurs as scary monsters and warm fuzzy creatures. It's about young wishes that come through loud and clear -- thanks to something called a Wish Radio. It has spaceships, friends of children, enemies of children and the usual roll call of uniformed authority figures thinking they're protecting society against the outsiders.

Above all, "We're Back," featuring the famous larynxes of Walter Cronkite, John Goodman, Martin Short, Charles Fleischer and others, is something young audiences will like. It's vividly animated, it's friendly -- and it's not too long. The length is significant. This is not your average "Howards End" audience. These are people for whom the next bathroom visit is just a matter of time.

Benevolent, time-traveling Captain NewEyes (voice of Cronkite) lands in the prehistoric age and feeds four dinosaurs with his IQ-raising Brain Grain Cereal. The Captain then invites the creatures to the 20th century where kids are just dying to see them (thanks, no doubt, to Spielberg's "Jurassic Park" and "The Land Before Time").

The four -- Rex (Goodman), a personable tyrannosaurus rex; Elsa (Felicity Kendal), a British-accented pterodactyl; Dweeb (Fleischer, sounding like he did in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit"), a duck-billed hadrosaurus; and Woog (Rene LeVant), a triceratops big on hotdogs -- agree to make the trip. After they land in New York, a modern adventure begins, in which they hook up with tough street kid Louie (Joey Shea) and lonely rich girl Cecilia (Yeardley Smith).

The dinosaurs wow New Yorkers at the Thanksgiving Day Parade, which gets the NYPD in a panicked, siren-whooping tizzy. Danger threatens when nasty Professor ScrewEyes (Kenneth Mars), NewEyes's estranged brother, corrals the kids and dinosaurs to join his Eccentric Circus -- a three-ring horror show of fear and intimidation.

For children, there's a clear divide between the forces of good and bad. In his spaceship, NewEyes picks up children's whispered desires on that Wish Radio: "Gee," says Louie, as a touched Rex listens in. "I wish I had a friend." But ScrewEyes's Fright Radio monitors people's fears, his radio dial featuring an intensity meter with three readings: Nervous, Paranoid and "Screaming Mimi."

As for the scary factor: The theme of the movie is fear and how easily it can be triggered. Despite protective parents' instincts, kids want to see the void, the end, the abyss -- all that stuff Mom and Dad lower their voices about.

"We're Back" doesn't go overboard indulging this negative impulse, parents will be glad to know. But it does give a few bursts of booga-booga. ScrewEyes puts the kids in a trance and turns them into monkeys for a while. He also feeds his Brain Drain to the dinosaurs, causing them to revert to their old, bellowing states.

But it isn't like giving away the secret of "The Crying Game" to say the monster stuff is temporary, that all bullies are eventually exposed as cowards, and that good triumphs in the end.

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