No other town has unearthed more dinosaur fossils than Terra Dino, home to mischievous young Ernie (voiced by Pamela Adlon). His love of dinosaurs is only rivaled by his fondness for pulling pranks, to the consternation of his rule-obsessed mom Sue (Jane Lynch) and little sister Julia (Tara Strong) who is forever trying to bust him. One day Ernie, Julia and their geeky friend Max (Yuri Lowenthal) stumble into an egg-shaped time machine invented by the latter's scientist father and are transported back to the prehistoric past. When the machine cracks open the kids are greeted by a beaming mother Tyrannosaurus Rex named Tyra (Melanie Griffith) who mistakes them for her own offspring. Meanwhile a T-Rex egg arrives in present day Terra Dino whereupon the hatchling creates chaos for the hapless Sue. As the panic-stricken kids try to figure out a way to return home they must contend with not just an overprotective Tyranno-mom but vicious predators intent on eating them.
Completed in 2012 but withheld from release until three years later to cash in on Jurassic World (under the alternate title: Back to the Jurassic) this South Korean-US computer animated feature is generic and forgettable. Despite a relatively starry voice cast the film drew little interest. On a visual level it delivers vibrant colours and impressive prehistoric backgrounds but the character designs range from simplistic to the bafflingly eccentric. Quite what species of dinosaur the two dreadlocked fish-gator things voiced by William Baldwin and Stephen Baldwin (?!) are meant to be is anyone's guess. In addition Dino Time presents a decidedly unusual take on dinosaur behaviour, wherein a benevolent T-Rex protects a mixed species community and everyone helps raise each other's offspring. On the other hand this is a children's fantasy so young dino-buffs will accept this fantastical premise in good faith. Many will likely be too busy wondering what the hell the freaky hyperactive duck-billed, purple haired thing voiced by Rob Schneider is supposed to be?
While the muddled dinosaur ecology can be excused the charmless child characters prove more problematic. Smartass Ernie in particular is annoyingly enamoured with his own coolness and spouts straining so hard to seem hip it practically wheezes. Ernie, who believes "breaking the rules is the most important part of being a kid" is contrasted with his straight-laced mother who conversely upholds that setting rules is the most important part of being a parent. Thus we have our core thematic arc wherein the experience shows mother and son they are both wrong and must learn to compromise. Ernie discovers he can't outfox Tyra with the same tricks he used on his human mom whilst dealing with a rambunctious baby T-Rex prompts Sue to regret not appreciate Ernie's... er... what exactly? Given Ernie never deviates from his core character traits of snarky, surly and sarcastic, even the filmmakers do not seem too sure. Melanie Griffith, not the first actress one would think of to voice a Tyrannosaurus, contributes a rather awkward-sounding vocal turn. By contrast Glee's Jane Lynch sounds more confident though the role of concerned mom hardly stretches her talents. The stars are easily outshone by seasoned voice actors like Tara Strong, Tom Kenny, Grey Griffin and John DiMaggio. No matter the quality of the material these guys always inhabit their roles with gusto.
To its credit Dino Time does sport a neat premise. Unfortunately the plot fails to develop that premise in any meaningful way, either on a thematic level or as an adventure romp. Instead the film serves up a load of inane pratfalls, goofy antics, a bland pop soundtrack, screaming, whining and dialogue that strains so hard to seem hip to under-twelves it practically wheezes. There are a few cool ideas but it is all so surprisingly small in scale, a generic Saturday morning cartoon inflated to feature length. In fact the two-dimensional animated closing credits are more inventive and eye-catching.