Disney shock! Terrific dinosaurs and no singing

Dinosaur (PG) | Eric Leighton and Ralph Zondag, 82 mins Road Trip (15) | Todd Phillips, 94 mins Romeo Must Die (15) | Andrzej Bartkowiak, 115 mins Tom's Midnight Garden (U) | Willard Carroll, 92 mins The Road Home (U) | Zhang Yimou, 100 mins Downtown 81 (nc) | Edo Bertoglio, 75 mins This is Spinal Tap (15) | Rob Reiner, 82 mins
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The Independent Culture

The big deal of the week is Dinosaur, Disney's new film, dolloped out only a couple of weeks, it seems, after Tarzan. We follow an iguanodon (called Aladar) after a fire-ball hits the Earth causing a nuclear winter and an exodus of the surviving creatures to the safety of their old nesting grounds. It's shriek, shriek all the way (not least from me).

The big deal of the week is Dinosaur, Disney's new film, dolloped out only a couple of weeks, it seems, after Tarzan. We follow an iguanodon (called Aladar) after a fire-ball hits the Earth causing a nuclear winter and an exodus of the surviving creatures to the safety of their old nesting grounds. It's shriek, shriek all the way (not least from me).

Everywhere smells of danger. Carnotaurs ("meat-eating bulls") stalk Aladar and his little lemur pals (middle Cretaceous lemurs? Hmm) who are carried on the back of a brachiosaur with a voice like Ethel Merman. The sky is the colour of washing-up water. The ground burns. Things die of despair in front of the camera. After long pauses for ignominy, murder and mass panic, the dinosaurs are trapped in a black cave with no way out. Rival dinosaurs ambush them.

It's completely terrifying. I can't imagine a small person being able to cope with it at all. Good, good. Better this than Toy Story and its angel-frosting pastels and obsessive verisimilitude. But the best news is that there's no singing whatsoever. Not even on the credits. No styrachosaur (ie Elton John) doing some stoked-up hokey-cokey. No ankylosaur (ie the girl from Miss Saigon) wearing her heart on her bony armoured plate. Phew.

There seems to have been a big research thing down at Disney a couple of years ago (pre- Mulan, anyway), the results of which were: phase-out the serenades, stop all snogging, and keep it short. It was radical, but necessary. For me, Disney reached its lowest point when the Lion King turned vegetarian - his fly-eating and excessive humility went on for about three days. And I didn't much like Robin Williams doing 700 voices on Aladdin either (couldn't you just see him, jumping about, flushed and hairy in the recording booth, demanding another take and then doing it to a standing ovation in the gallery?)

Mind you, Dinosaur never stops to take a breath either. It's driven on by a clean-edged, rich story, and draws on a seemingly fathomless supply of traumas. This diverts from Disney's often emptily intricate approach (check out the hairs on the lemurs' faces - each alive with its own distracting little story, each the work of some jiggle-ripple-rotation graduate) and everything pulses and trembles and tilts and races. It's terrific.

Road Trip is a kind of National Lampoon's Animal House but with its very own post-Farrelly brothers comedy patois (thanks, guys). It heads across America with a gang of college mates (the gimp, the scientist, the jock and the sensitive one with a ghastly smile) as they try to intercept an incriminating video-tape, featuring the sensitive one doing rather prosaic things (I imagine) to a cigarette-thin blonde, before the tape reaches Texas. On the way they lose their virginity to fat black girls, smoke dope, talk nonsense and decide, well, who cares what they decide - this is the same bewildered, mistrustful Tinseltown responsible for Scary Movie (bras, batons, pretend irony) and American Pie (just bras). Road Trip is full of the casual frat-boy sexism (the most frightening of all) that's now endemic in teen Hollywood.

Romeo Must Die is a reworking of Romeo and Juliet but with Asian and African-Americans doing the betraying and loving. Considering just about every gang romance is a reworking of Romeo and Juliet (I guess we've yet to see it done by Eskimos), the film has nothing to offer except its Romeo - the Hong Kong superstar Jet Li, who is calm and pock-marked, and patently given very few lines because he can't get his mouth around the European vowels (this is his first English-language film). His clear lack of belief in his own charisma, his sheer discomfort, makes him sexy as hell.

Tom's Midnight Garden is a gauche adaptation of the loved children's novel. It stars Anthony Way (of the BBC's The Choir) as the lonely Tom, sent to stay for a stretch with his boring Aunt and Uncle (James Wilby, a very good and noble actor who can look like the most evil man on Earth when he sets his mouth just so and speaks out of it like that). There he discovers a magical night-time garden and its Victorian inhabitants. The film is packed with the most dawdling child actors imaginable. I've never heard such unassuageably privileged voices doing their dull, shrill thing. It's agonising.

While set in the present day, Zhang Yimou's The Road Home occupies the past in flashback, and is very beautiful, very full, when it does. At a funeral, a man recalls his parents' 1950s courtship, an affair that faced political and familial opposition. This is rural China, shot with heart and sentiment - the colours go from Mao blues to theatrical reds and golds, which invite us into the story like flags for some travelling troupe.

Downtown 81 is a light, trippy, almost-film that was lost (literally) and then found, and is only getting a release because it stars the late artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, then 19. Basquiat wanders and wanders the New York pavements with his hair (cockatoo dreads) and his small frame. It's worth seeing for his long treks alone, which recall the John Heath-Stubbs line: "I rose and walked the streets /... Blackbirds incontestably sang / And the people were beautiful."

I lied when I said that the big deal of the week was Dinosaur - actually it's the re-released This is Spinal Tap. Just so you know, the band are in the country doing a light tour, and are still furious with Marti DiBergi for making them look like the support act for the Tygers of Pan Tang. Spinal Tap are looking for a new drummer.

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