Classic 1980s movies achieved their peak in the 80s (obviously) and, surprisingly, during this decade as well.
Thanks to Super 8, Stranger Things, IT, the classic tropes of four decades ago have now found a new life, for better or worse.
Surfing on this nostalgia wave, My Pet Dinosaur gives us another retelling of a group of boys riding their bikes in a small town and encountering an alien entity, the government lurking not very far behind.
Here, it is Jake, Jordan Dulieu (“House Of Hancock (TV)”) and his group of nerdy friends who like to roam around their small town, recently hit by a wave of diseases that killed an important portion of the population (Jake’s father being one of them) and left the town in a quasi-desolate state.
After a forbidden night trip to a bordering forest where UFOs have been sighted, Jake brings home a strange fluorescent substance that, by a twist of fate, turns into a mysterious but affectionate creature.
While other people in town glimpse sight of other strange animals, the military starts to take control of the area with unethical plans in mind (the usual testing & dissecting), forcing Jake to hide the creature he has named Magnus.
While Matt Drummond’s (“Dinosaur Island”) film avoids the 80s setting (the story is very much set in our present day, each kid possessing their own cellphones, computers and internet connection), everything else is taken straight out of classic movies like E.T. the Extraterrestrial or the Goonies.
Character traits, lines, story beats, nothing is too off track from what we’ve already seen countless times before.
Most of it is very well done, however, with the only exception of the wooden delivery of many lines; an issue more probably caused by the script than the actors, the lines sounding too rehearsed and cinematic to feel real from the mouths of children.
My Pet Dinosaur still finds a way to slightly stand out thanks to the dinosaur Magnus, who is actually never referred to as a dinosaur and would be more accurately described as its own kind of fantastical creature, a mix between a dinosaur, a dragon and a dog for its loyalty and obedience.
Its design is excellent and the creature is very well-rendered, looking very detailed with clear and recognizable body language and expressions that make him instantly the most endearing character of the film.
The CGI is a bit rough at times when it comes to making him fit inside the real environment that surrounds him, but for a small budget film it is still very impressive.
Although Magnus is the heart of the film, he shares this status with the rest of the cast; behind the clichés still lie loveable characters that we can’t help but root for.
Following the usual tropes, Jake’s friend group only has one girl in it, a neighbor of his and classmate named Abbie, Annabel Wolfe, who tags along out of her own volition and quickly takes her place as a central character, more so than the rest of Jake’s friend group.
While all of the boys fade to the background because of their lack of development and unoriginal characterizations, Abbie and her relationship with Jake gets to steal the spotlight and be fleshed out in a way that (moderately) subverts the genre.
My Pet Dinosaur is an all-too-conventional film, but an efficient one nevertheless. If you’re looking for a good family movie to watch on a slow afternoon, this is definitely the right film to choose – but do not expect anything more, and definitely stay away from it if you are tired of the 1980s revival trend.