By Morgan Leger
In the back of my mind for years existed an image of an adult brontosaurus and her kid swimming away to a new land. I always tried to remember what movie it came from. Once I found it was Baby: Secret of Lost Legend, I couldn’t believe it. Not because of the special effects used to bring the extinct creatures to life, but the overall content of the movie.
Remember the old saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”? The DVD cover shows the two protagonists with the dino-tyke, giving viewers the impression that this is a family movie. It’s not.
Baby centers around a Peace Corps couple played by William Katt (The Greatest American Hero) and Sean Young (Blade Runner). They believe that a family of surviving brontosauruses still exist in Africa. They find the dinosaurs, but the dino mother gets captured and the father gets killed. As a result, the human couple must raise the titular baby dinosaur.
The film was released in 1985, a dark period for the Disney Company and crew. They were desperate to expand their audience, so they shed their light-hearted image in favor of darker material–such as The Black Cauldron, Return to Oz, and The Black Hole–to attract an older crowd. Baby is one of those movies, released through Disney’s subsidiary studio, Touchstone Pictures. Disney would maintain their light-hearted charm produce more mature movies under the Touchstone name. Baby was their third film distributed through Touchstone, and they pushed the envelope of maturity.
There is a heavy amount of violence, tribal but topless nudity, and a massive stereotypical view on African tribes. Baby tends to flip flop between a charming fantasy and harsh reality. The two different tones don’t mix. The violence is tolerable, but there is a lot of cleavage for a PG-rated movie. They’re attempting a realistic approach with the natives depicted here, but it makes it confusing to figure out who the intended audience is. Another fault is the depiction of the Africans. They are typical clichés, trigger happy with a low I.Q. The helicopter pilot even makes remarks of wife beating. Talk about racial sensitivity.
Aside from these problems, there are a few good things to say about Baby. At the time, computer effects weren’t fully developed and most studios relied on animatronics to bring their creations to life. The creature done here is impressive even if it does appear stiff at times, rarely showing emotion. The musical score by Jerry Goldsmith is a treat, adding to the adventurous tone of the picture. It is worth a listen.
The characters are cardboard-flat. Sometimes it’s difficult to care about their decisions. And some moments that feel forced, such as one sequence where the baby brontosaurs looks at his dead father while some vultures circle the corpse.
Aside from these flaws, somewhere in this mess is a good popcorn flick. Young adults might like it, but I would advise parents to watch it first before screening it for family movie night.