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Would these little story changes really have made that big a difference (box office-wise) with Disney's "Dinosaur"?

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Would these little story changes really have made that big a difference (box office-wise) with Disney's "Dinosaur"?

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Well, Disney's last (for a while, anyway) traditionally animated feature -- "Home on the Range" -- continues to hang in there. After four weeks in release, this film has managed to pull in $45.5 million.

Which (admittedly) isn't a smash hit by any stretch of the imagination. But -- at the same time -- given that HOTR continues to chug along at the box office (More importantly, given that this Walt Disney Pictures release has yet to fall out of the 10 Top. Would that the Mouse could say the same about its $107 million flop, "The Alamo." Anyway ...), this suggests that "Home" at least has some nice word-of-mouth going for it. Which bodes well for the film when it turns up on video and DVD later this year.

But still ... when a new Disney animated feature doesn't automatically cross over into blockbuster territory (I.E. grossing over $100 million during its domestic release), there are always those within the Mouse House who begin second-guessing. Who wonder aloud "Would this film had done better at the box office if we'd just stuck to our original choices?"

Which -- in "Home on the Range"'s case -- would have meant sticking with "The Jeffersons" vet Ja'Net Dubois as the actress that WDFA originally hired to provide vocals for Maggie as well as "Sex and the City"'s Sarah Jessica Parker -- who was the performer that the Mouse first hired to do Grace's voice.

Of course, given how many people have seemed to have enjoyed Roseanne Barr's performance as Maggie (as well as Meg Tilly's off-kilter crooning as Grace the Cow), it would appear that the folks over at Disney Feature Animation made the right choice in letting Dubois and Parker go and then bringing Barr and Tilly on board with the project. But still ... there are always those who second-guess decisions like this.

People who puzzle at the seemingly little changes that could have made a really big difference at the box office.

Take -- for example -- "Dinosaur." Disney Feature Animation's Summer 2000 release. Which -- as I mentioned in a recent "Why For" column -- is actually a much better film than most people remember it to be.

But could "Dinosaur" have been an even better film, one that performed much better at the box office (This Summer 2000 WDFA release reportedly cost $127.5 million to produce and another $28 million to promote. Which -- given that "Dinosaur" only pulled in $137 million during its domestic release as well as an additional $216 during its overseas run -- means that this movie wasn't exactly a major money maker for the Mouse), if the film makers had just gone ahead with some of the ideas that they had originally come up with for the movie. Weird little touches like:

FEATHERS ON THE RAPTORS. While "Dinosaur" was in production, an archaeologist discovered what he thought to be evidence of feathers on a skeleton he was excavating. This find has been seen by many as conclusive proof that modern birds did -- in fact -- evolve from dinosaurs.

Over at the Mouse House, this intriguing bit of news lead to some lively discussions about what to do with the prehistoric creatures featured in "Dinosaur." Since Disney was striving to create the most realistic dinosaurs that had ever been done on film, didn't that mean that they now had to start sticking feathers on the monsters in their movie?

Wanting to at least appear to be scientifically accurate, Disney ordered their development people to work up some sketches of dinosaurs with feathers. What the Mouse hoped would happen is -- with the creative use of plumage -- the creatures in Disney's "Dinosaur" would look more majestic or menacing.

That didn't happen, kids. Based on the test sketches, the ancient reptiles featured in Disney's "Dinosaur" just sort of looked goofy when you stuck feathers on them. Particularly disappointing was the impact that plumage had on the movie's pack of raptors. The film's design team had hoped that the clever use of feathers would make these ferocious predators look like some Cretaceous street gang. No such luck. With feathers stuck all over them, the raptors just looked like a bunch of pretty p*ssed off chickens.

So -- historically accurate or not -- the idea of features on the creatures in Disney's "Dinosaur" was plucked before this idea could really take root. It's just too bad that someone didn't do this with the movie's original opening sequence. And -- speaking of which ...

THE PONDEROUS PROLOGUE. "Dinosaur" didn't always open with that amazing sequence you see now (I.E. All those scenes where you see Aladar's egg have these brushes with death before finally arriving safely at Lemur Island). Very early on, the animators at Disney had a very different opening for this film in mind.

Picture -- if you will -- Space. Deep, dark, mysterious. Suddenly looming out of the darkness is the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs. As the camera whips around this rock, we see that it is huge, horrible, menacing.

The camera now whips across the universe at warp speed -- quickly showing all the constellations and planets that lie between the asteroid and Earth. It finally comes to a stop on the Cretaceous era Earth, when dinosaurs still happily roamed the planet.

The idea behind this sequence? To re-enforce to moviegoers that the characters that they were watching were already in great peril. That this huge horrible asteroid is already on its way to smite them.

The animators had hoped that this sequence would cause movie-goers to immediately feel sympathy for the characters in "Dinosaur." After all, how can you not feel sorry for these guys? Their world, their whole way of life is doomed ... But they don't know it yet?

Well, test audiences didn't respond all that well to "Dinosaur"'s original opening. Disney actually found that those scenes with the asteroid lead viewers to keep some emotional distance from the film's characters. I mean, why bother getting involved? You knew Aladar and his kind were doomed even before you met them.

So -- with the hope that this would increase the audience's sympathy and emotional involvement with the characters in "Dinosaur" -- Disney dropped the film's asteroid-in-deep-sapce intro entirely. In its place, the Mouse opted to extend the "Aladar's Amazing Egg-scape" sequence. Which would hopefully now start this film off right, giving movie-goers someone to root for right from the get-go.

A PREHISTORIC MOSES? By the way, it's no co-incidence that Aladar's egg makes part of its journey by bobbing along in the current. The animators hoped -- by using this imagery -- the audience might get the idea that Aladar was the dinosaur equivalent of Moses: a creature that -- through some sort of divine intervention -- made it through many hardships just so someday that he could serve a higher purpose.

Okay, admittedly that sounds like sort of a loopy idea. But -- if you look closely at the finished film -- you'll notice that "Dinosaur" borrows quite a few story ideas from Cecil B. Demille's "The 10 Commandments."

EX: Aladar -- just like Moses -- is separated by his true people and raised by strangers.

EX: It's Aladar who eventually leads his "people" to the Promised Land. AKA the Nesting Grounds.

But it was that last story idea that the "Dinosaur" team came up with that Disney management absolutely put its foot down about. That made Mouse House managers say: "You just can't do that. If you state that clearly in this movie, Creationists and the Religious Right will have us for breakfast."

What story idea am I talking about? The concept that mankind wouldn't exist at all today if Aladar hadn't brought his Lemur family with him to the Nesting Grounds. That -- because of this one gesture of kindness on the iguandon's part (I.E. making sure that the lemurs survived the asteroid strike, then bringing his "adoptive family" with him all the way to the one place that escaped being damaged) -- that our "ancestors" were able to evolve and eventually out-live the dinosaurs.

As you might imagine, creating a film that would obviously upset Creationists was not what the Walt Disney Company had in mind. Which is why "Dinosaur" ended up with its somewhat ambigious ending. Which suggested that the dinosaurs and the lemurs had both survived the big asteroid strike. Which meant ...

Well, obviously this meant is that the Walt Disney Company had hoped that "Dinosaur" would be a huge financial success. Which meant that audiences worldwide would be anxiously crying out for a sequel. So -- by leaving Aladar et al alive -- that made it that much easier for "Dinosaur II" to pick up right where Disney's original "Dinosaur" film left off.

But -- alas -- that never happened. In the Mouse's eye, "Dinosaur" performed so poorly that the Walt Disney Company eventually disbanded the WDFA unit that was credited with the film's creation, the Secret Lab. But that's a story for another time ...

These are just three of the ideas that the folks at Feature Animation eventually discarded on their way to completing production of "Dinosaur." If you'd like to learn even more about these discarded concepts for this film (As well as many other exciting ideas that got left by the wayside. Like "Dinosaur"'s dramatic river crossing sequence, or the death of Aladar's grandparents, or even a test for the version of the movie where the creatures in "Dinosaur" never actually spoke, but communicated through some form of telepathy), then I suggest you chase down a copy of the 2-disc "Collector's Edition" of the "Dinosaur" DVD. You'll find a number of the scenes I've mentioned in this article -- as well as many other exciting ideas -- among the disc's extra features.

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