Disney Hopes Kids Like Talking Dino

Wednesday, May 17th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BURBANK, Calif. (AP) — Some actors aspire to become the voice of a generation. D.B. Sweeney is the mouthpiece for the entire Cretaceous Period of 65 million years ago.

He is the voice of Aladar, the iguanodon star of Disney's new computer-animated adventure ``Dinosaur,'' which opens Friday.

Sweeney believes that giving the realistic-looking dinosaurs human speech makes storytelling sense. And so does Disney, which is gambling that audiences will accept the huge reptiles yammering in English.

It's one thing when animated kitchenware breaks into song in ``Beauty and the Beast'' or a cartoon crab croons in ``The Little Mermaid.'' When these dinosaurs speak, the effect is more like the talking live-action animals of ``Babe.''

It could have come off as silly as Godzilla asking a cabbie how to get to Carnegie Hall so he could stomp on it. But Disney's creative team took some liberties with the reptiles' facial expressions to make it more credible, and laid the groundwork to prepare the audience.

Disney considered doing the movie without dialogue, then toyed with third-person narration or voice-overs representing the dinosaurs' thoughts.

``It almost played as though we were taking the easy road out and being cheap about it,'' said ``Dinosaur'' co-director Eric Leighton. ``That became more of a distraction than just biting the bullet and making them move their lips.''

Of course, a talking cartoon mouse was once groundbreaking, too.

Along with Sweeney, whose credits include ``Eight Men Out'' and TV's ``Lonesome Dove,'' others in the ``Dinosaur'' voice cast are Julianna Margulies, Ossie Davis, Alfre Woodard, Joan Plowright and Della Reese.

The dinosaurs and other animals were created by computer animation and then edited into footage of real-life landscapes.

The PG-rated movie opens with an extended, dialogue-free montage introducing the dinosaurs' peaceful kingdom. A meat-eating predator charges into their midst. An egg containing Aladar is swiped by a hyena-like scavenger reptile, and eventually ends up among prehistoric lemurs.

The first characters to speak are the lemurs.

``Then Aladar is the first dinosaur to speak, because of course, he was raised by the primates,'' Leighton said. ``By the time we've reached all the other dinosaurs, we've established that a dinosaur can talk. Now they can all talk.''

Special-effects wizards adhered closely to supposed dinosaur anatomy in many instances but took creative license on the size of some creatures and especially the faces.

Iguanodons had beaks, but the filmmakers chose to put lips on Aladar because in early tests of him speaking, he looked silly.

``The beak looked like a couple of coconuts slapping against one another,'' said Neil Eskuri, digital-effects supervisor.

Horse musculature was used to model the iguanodons' faces to give more range of expression. To design Aladar's love interest, the animators tried to imagine how Audrey Hepburn would move had she been a dinosaur.

``We wanted her to have that slim neck, that proud, prestigious quality that she had,'' co-director Ralph Zondag said.

``Dinosaur'' plays out like a drama rather than one of Disney's animated musical romps. Still, said Sweeney, ``If you're making a movie for kids, there's no cooler topic. It's talking dinosaurs.''