Take a look at this poster.
Clearly this is an educational film right? It’s about the great circle of life, a dinosaur being raised by its parents and then having young of its own! Explaining the predator prey relationship to a new generation of viewers! My sister and I had an actual childhood, so we were completely uninterested until we read the movie description:
“A T-Rex attack took out his family. Now a young Tarbosaurus must learn to survive in a harsh winner-eats-all world.”
In the Action/Adventure section.
Which means that this is a revenge thriller with dinosaurs, which basically makes this the best movie ever. My sister and I glanced at each other and pressed play, preparing ourselves to see the best CGI movie since Inside Out. And maybe we set the bar a little high, but damn this was a surprisingly good movie.
It follows a baby Tarbosaurus named Speckles whose family consists of his mother, adult brother (named Quick) and juvenile twin sisters. Well . . . consisted, because a rogue T-rex kills his entire family. Yes KILLS, because “took out” does not do the brutality of this movie justice.
To quote a subReddit, “nature is metal”.
Nature documentaries skip over this in rather blase fashion. Yes predators target the “sick, the weak and the young”, but they rarely show the full implications of that. Watching a baby gazelle get separated from its herd and then taken down by a lion, followed by a quick cut of it eating it is a pretty sanitized version of what’s actually happening.
Dino King keeps it “metal” while giving Speckles a voice.
It is heart rending to watch a little baby dinosaur crying out for his family as it witnesses his elders, their duty to protect him, systematically killed as the food chain takes its natural course. It forces the viewer to empathize, put their family members in their place. I imagine my sister, my mother and my father in a lawless place where someone bigger than them can slaughter them and have it be natural.
By the way, the T-Rex is called “One-Eye” because one of his eyes is scratched out with a big vertical scar.
So basically this is The Lion King IF the movie was way more realistic and with several times as much death.
The easiest compliment (or criticism) against CGI animation is whether it looks good. There’s a notable dearth of analysis on whether the animation is smooth or not, and that’s where Dino King hits a home run. The frame rate is smooth and the way the dinosaurs move is beautiful. In particular, the dinosaur vs. dinosaur duels look fantastic, with collisions and bites looking exactly as they should.
This is something that CGI anime like, say, Berserk or Knights of Sidonia should take note of. I’d rather have blocky textures and fluid animation than the world’s greatest slideshow.
There are only two real flaws, one of them understandable and one of them maddening.
This isn’t the highest budget of CGI, but they put the detail where it counts. The dinosaurs are extremely well detailed, as is most of the fauna. Where the CGI fails is on flat ground and rocks. You heard me. It doesn’t break the movie by any means, but next to the detail of the dinosaurs and fauna the flat ground and Fischer-Price rocks is jarring.
What really threatens to derail the movie at times is the writing.
Speckles has the only speaking part in the movie, which is great because the movie only needs to be told from his viewpoint. Even the voice acting isn’t bad, and some quick IMDb research from my sister revealed that the actors are Veronica Taylor (baby Speckles) and C.D. Barnes (adult Speckles)!!!
Oh, I mean Ash Ketchum and Prince Eric from The Little Mermaid.
Speckles’ speaking parts are written similarly to the dinosaurs of Land Before Time, in that he expresses human emotions and thought processes but still has the limitations of being a dinosaur. He’ll express fear, love, and loyalty but also be bamboozled the first time he encounters a tar pit. And again, this all works really well.
But unlike the Land Before Time franchise, Dino King is unbelievably dark. Which means there are certain lines of dialogue that are either:
a) toned down as not to be too adult
b) so silly it hurts
An example of the former is when Speckles refers to a pack of velociraptors as “creeps”. In a movie that is very upfront about the brutality of life before law, it’s a little weird to refer to a predatory gang that kills everything it encounters in such a tame manner. I get that motherf***ers may be a bit much, but what about “savages”?
But it’s the latter issue that really takes the cake.
There is a moment in the movie in which Speckles, orphan who has had to struggle for everything, wins his first dinosaur duel to protect someone. It is an inspiring moment, to which he throws back his head and yells,
“I AM SPECCCKKLLLESSS!!!”
It is even more stupid than it sounds. Hilarious, but takes away from the gravity of the moment, no?
I suspect it’s an issue with the film originally being South Korean. The Netflix version only has English so I have no way to compare, but I’m guessing the dialogue is a little better. I’m assuming their version of “Speckles” sounds way more badass when shouted into the air.
Ultimately though, Dino King is good. I’d recommend a little bit of whatever poison fancies you, just to dull some of the cringe-worthy parts but you can watch it sober too. It’s dark, it’s mature, the climax is heart-pounding and it’s one of the real hidden gems of Netflix.