My Pet Dinosaur, 2017.
Directed by Matt Drummond.
Starring Jordan Dulieu, Annabel Wolfe, Harrison Saunders, Scott Irwin, Beth Champion, Chris Gabardi, Rowland Holmes, Tom Rooney, and Sam Winspear-Schillings.
A young boy, Jake, accidentally discovers and befriends a dinosaur-like creature, but his attempts to keep his new friend a secret cause problems with his family, his friends, and for the small American town he lives in.
My Pet Dinosaur, the new, E.T.-inspired film from Australian writer-director Matt Drummond, is just over 90 minutes of pure, undiluted nostalgia. Nostalgia is a wonderful accoutrement for any piece of entertainment. Take Netflix’s Stranger Things, for example. Its ‘80s elements, right down to the self-referential casting of Winona Ryder, elevated the material, adding a warm familiarity to its surprising plot and charming cast. The key there, however, was that the nostalgia was an addition rather than the whole shebang. My Pet Dinosaur has little to offer outside of its charming central dino and many references to older, better movies, and a little originality would have gone a long way.
My Pet Dinosaur begins with brief images of a potential UFO flyover, some mysterious neon goop, and hazmat suit-clad government types cleaning up said goop. From there, the camera takes us into the small American town of Brightwood, where our young protagonist, Jake (Jordan Dulieu), sits bored in the classroom next to new girl Abbey (Annabel Wolfe). They meet up with Jake’s friends to engage in preteen highjinks, crawling out windows and jumping on bicycles to explore a mysterious backwoods locale, which nets them a sample of the neon goop that made an appearance earlier.
After some exposition concerning Jake’s harried single mom and his grumpy older brother, Jake’s good sample transforms into an infectiously cute (if heavily CG) baby dinosaur who he names Magnus. From there, the movie proceeds in expected fashion, taking inspiration from 80s classics E.T. and The Goonies and more recent hits like Super 8, How to Train Your Dragon, and Guardians of the Galaxy. It also draws quite heavily from less successful “hide our special animal friend” movies like Andre and The Water Horse.
Magnus is a lovely central creature, cute and curious at the beginning and later imposing and magnificent. Though there were obvious budget constraints, Magnus remains interesting and believable throughout, and his arc is dynamic and will be particularly exciting for younger viewers, though the proceedings do get a bit violent for tiny tots.
His human companions are another story. No one turns in a horrible performance; the problem is rather that the actors are given little to do other than react to Magnus or engage in dramatic filler that feels lifted from a bad television drama. There’s also serious inconsistency when it comes to accents. It seems odd that the film is set in America, given that it was filmed in Australia and has an all-Australian cast. Several of the cast members struggle with the accent and the result is jarring.
The best scenes are those involving Magnus’s growth as a creature and as Jake’s friend. By the end of the film, however, the story becomes muddled, and Magnus is given little to do outside of stamp his feet at villains, robbing the film of its most dynamic and entertaining component.
Magnus is worthy of viewers’ attention when he is given interesting things to do and he is adorable and compelling enough to recommend My Pet Dinosaur, particularly for younger viewers. However, the movie relies too much on story beats that have been seen time and time again over the last thirty years, and as a result the film around Magnus feels a bit stale.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★