Rex: A Dinosaur’s Story

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Deep inside of a mountain, in an ancient Mu Temple, is a perfectly preserved dinosaur egg. Paleontologist Akiyoshi Tateno (Tsunehiko Watase) recovers the egg on an expedition and brings it back to his lab where, with the help of his estranged wife Naomi (Shinobu Otake), the egg is hatched. But the dinosaur inside has identified Tateno’s daughter Chie (Yumi Adachi) as its mother.

Like many children’s films of the nineties Rex: A Dinosaur’s Story (1993) combines two central conflicts in its narrative. While the film explores the relationship between conservationism and capitalism it also address familial issues, specifically that of an absent mother. Rex and Chie are both without mothers and the film focuses primarily on the quest to locate or rekindle those relationships.

As far as the political commentary in Rex: A Dinosaur’s Story is concerned it’s a matter of animal exploitation. The villains in these films, be it Free Willy (1993) or The Amazing Panda Adventure (1995), are always out to make a buck off of nature while the hero is tasked with nurturing and protecting the endangered animal. Often these exploits have an element of slapstick and Rex: A Dinosaur’s Story is no exception.

Thematically Rex: A Dinosaur’s Story offers nothing new. Written and directed by Haruki Kadokawa, Rex: A Dinosaur’s Story is a balancing act between the real and the fantastic. Dreamy scenes such as Rie’s Christmas Eve waltz in the snow with Rex are juxtaposed with the harsh realities of capitalistic opportunism and scientific protocols (no children’s film made in America has ever expressed so much concern for the bowel movements of an animal born in captivity).

Rex is a puppet, an animatronic creature and sometimes just a guy in a rubber suit. Yet, the character is highly emotive and extremely endearing in much the same way as Gizmo in Gremlins (1984). For this reason Rex: A Dinosaur’s Story is at its most emotionally powerful in the third act set during Christmas when Chie and Rex runaway in order to reunite Rex with his own kind.

In this climactic section of the film, Kadokawa masterfully creates a series of fanciful tableaus that totally disregard all narrative logic in favor of offering its children viewers a spectacle of wish fulfillment. As soon as Chie and Rex escape the laboratory (with the help of a dog and a horse) the film itself escapes the confines of reality and enters the vastness of imagination. The images in Rex: A Dinosaur’s Story become pure fantasy in service of sentiment made palpable by the actors’ performances and a little bit of Christmas magic.