Kids' entertainment, it seems, is finally growing up. DreamWorks' recent The Road To El Dorado, for example, featured sex, nudity, hallucinogens and a pair of overtly camp men. Then, of course, there's the immensely successful Harry Potter books, gradually growing darker and more twisted - the latest instalment even features the death of a main character. So it's hardly surprising that, at a kid-packed screening of Disney's latest, Dinosaur, the childish chatter was soon quelled into shocked silence when a panicking triceratops was turned into mincemeat by a ravenous carnosaur during the opening sequence.
But what else would you expect from a movie with a cast made up almost entirely of prehistoric monsters? More to the point, what else would you expect from a movie which was originally scripted by Wild Bunch writer Walon Green, and intended as a project for gorehound Paul Verhoeven and Starship Troopers effects supervisor Phil Tippett? Yet Disney's adaptation of Green's script is obviously eras away from his and Verhoeven's harsh, sparse, dialogue-free, Quest-For-Fire-with-dinosaurs vision. Despite the blood, violence and references to the joys of mating, Dinosaur still has an unmistakable whiff of Mouse about it.
For a start, the dinosaurs talk. And when they speak, it's in a distinctly Disneyesque language, as Aladar tries to promote the concept of co-operation and helping the weak survive, while brutal exodus leader Kron dictates a survival-of-the-fittest credo. No prizes for guessing which philosophy comes out on top. And it's into this chasm between adult-pleasing action and kiddie-pandering scripting that Dinosaur unfortunately tumbles. Smaller tots will sob with fear, while the more demanding teens and grown-ups will despair that the story is little more than a rehash of Don Bluth `toon The Land Before Time, featuring all the expected schmaltz.
Still, there's no denying the power of Dinosaur's spectacle. Disney may have displayed some irritation that its thunder was stolen by the BBC's Walking With Dinosaurs, but the movie more than matches the Beeb's documentary series in terms of visual flair. Every beastie has a perfectly textured, wrinkled hide (or shaggy hair in the case of the lemurs), while their movements are convincingly fluid, interacting seamlessly with the filmed live action backgrounds.
Most impressive are the savage, slo-mo fight scenes and the comet-crash sequence, which presents a nightmare of shockwaves, fireballs and continent-crunching earthquakes. It's just a shame that, unlike Disney's CGI-pioneering partner Pixar, the scribes couldn't come up with a screenplay that matched the animation.