Australia is not widely known for its family fantasy films. But with a plot replicating that age-old story of a boy befriending and protecting a mythical creature from the government, surely this film would fit safely into the same mould, right?
Unfortunately and somewhat unsurprisingly, the answer is, in the case of Matt Drummond’s new film My Pet Dinosaur, no.
Jake (Jordan Dulieu) is a brooding tween in an unnamed county situated, presuming by the cast’s attempt at the accent, somewhere in America. He and his mopey bully of an older brother, Mike (Harrison Saunders), are having family troubles after their father passes away, until Jake finds fluorescent goo in a forest, takes it home and spills a protein shake on it, which obviously alters the goo so it transforms into a little dinosaur-esque creature. Every day this creature gets bigger, so when the military (a.k.a. what seems like one actor playing the kernel accompanied by the same four extras in army fatigues. Every. Single. Scene.) arrive at the town searching for these mysterious critters, Jake and his ragtag group of friends have to protect this CGI beast while also trying awkwardly to be fun, family-friendly and relatable.
First thing’s first: it is relieving to see an Australian production company delve into a smaller budget sci-fi CGI family fantasy, and the unusual turn should be commended. However, in a world of Pete’s Dragon and E.T., that simple, rinsed and repeated premise does not sit well. It is a family film and there are arguments that this premise is tried and tested and perfect for children, however we here at The Iris like to give children some credit and hope that they’re smart enough to identify an apple from a used apple core.
Odd metaphors aside, the plunge into the deep is commendable, but executed poorly. The script is simply exposition followed by melodrama followed by unwieldly banter followed by exposition again in a clunky “tick the boxes” way. The dialogue is cringe-worthy at the best of times, and exit-worthy cliché at the worst. When nearly every single character is so two-dimensional and unrelatable, with backstories carelessly forced into conversations like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, the fundamental issue must come down to the screenplay. At points Jake would be reciting exposition to himself in the most awkward of ways, as though the director wasn’t sure how to show this thought except by making the character say it out loud, which is the most devastating mistake a director can make.
It’s confusing as to why the film is set in America instead of Australia, when the only difference this change of location makes is that now the actors have to speed-learn American accents. It’s obvious watching the film, even without knowing it’s not an American film, that none of these actors hail from the US of A. Some of these accents are abysmal, performed by young actors who audiences want so badly to do well, but were slapped in the face by performances that looked as though every last one of them were caught off-guard – unprepared and farcical in their execution. The only performances that didn’t punch audiences in the metaphorical face was Beth Champion as Jake and Mike’s mother and David Roberts for the five seconds he was on camera, but it’s swamped by a sea of eye-rolling nonsense that one might almost cry were they not laughing at it.
The CGI is rather impressive, but it is clear that the size of the budget could not quite get the refinement that it so desired. The score is functional and the production design is staged like it wants to be seen as a set, but the most disappointing moment was when a production company placed their logo awkwardly in the middle of an unneeded scene, taking up at least 30 percent of the frame, just so they can pat themselves on the back. This kind of corporate narcissism draws an audience out of the film entirely and it’s saddening to think that this ego could have spilled onto the set as well.
In the end, for parents who would enjoy a 90-minute nap in a darkened cinema while the kids are semi-engaged, My Pet Dinosaur may be well worth the lowered ticket price on your local cinema’s discount day. If not, may we recommend watching a freshly painted wall dry – riveting.
Review Score: ONE STAR (OUT OF FIVE)
My Pet Dinosaur is in cinemas now.