Jurassic Park Was Such a Massive Hit Even Steven Spielberg Tried Cashing In

Some cases of dinomania can be terminal.

Written by Jon O'Brien

Jurassic Park’s monumental success turned the Tyrannosaurus rex into the biggest pop culture commodity of 1993. Michael Crichton’s novel returned to the top of The New York Times Best Seller List three years after its original publication, arcade game Cadillacs and Dinosaurs received the Saturday morning animated treatment, and even B-movie maestro Roger Corman got in on the act with the nonsensical schlockfest Carnosaur. A feature-length dinosaur tale from Amblimation, the animation studio founded by the man who’d sparked this wave of Dino-Mania, should have been a home run.

But despite Steven Spielberg’s attachment, the adaptation of Hudson Talbott’s children’s book We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story didn’t exactly roar to the top of the box office chart. It grossed just $9.3 million, less than half its budget, having misguidedly opened the same week as Mrs. Doubtfire, the instant family-friendly classic which, ironically, saw Robin Williams’ voice actor mess around with a TV studio’s stash of toy dinosaurs.

A faux-Scottish matron wasn’t solely responsible for We’re Back’s theatrical wipeout, though. If ever there was a case of too many cooks, We’re Back was plagued by constant behind-the-scenes meddling, not helped by the fact four different directors were tasked with bringing the slim 20-page story to the screen... at the same time.

Simon Wells and Phil Nibbelink had previously collaborated on Amblimation’s underrated 1991 debut An American Tale: Fievel Goes West, while the Zondag brothers had served as directing animators on the Spielberg-produced The Land Before Time. But with all parties also working on Balto and a failed attempt to animate Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats, We’re Back began to resemble a rushed side project rather than a committed labor of love, an unexpected development considering Talbott’s 1987 book was a favorite of Spielberg’s young son Max.

Bowery Boys throwback Louie and the world’s friendliest T-Rex.


The initial casting of John Malkovich as mad circus owner Professor Screweyes didn’t help matters, with the famously intense actor eventually abandoning the project over creative differences (a deleted scene suggests he may have played it a little too frightening). Malkovich reportedly revealed the experience was a catalyst for his decision to leave Hollywood. Later, an underwhelming test screening cost the studio $1 million in alterations, perhaps explaining why the film clocks in at just 71 minutes.

We’re Back doesn’t always make the best use of its paltry running time, either. The dinosaurs, including John Goodman’s lovable Rex, Felicity Kendal’s coquettish pteranodon Elsa, and Charles Fleischer’s ditsy parasaurolophus, are often sidelined in favor of the two annoying tweens who barely bat an eyelid when first dwarfed by the prehistoric creatures transported from the Mesozoic era to modern-day New York.

The lovable gang of dinosaurs are entirely unperturbed by their time-traveling exploits.


Yes, We’re Back is also a time travel movie of sorts, with lovable mad scientist Captain Neweyes (voiced by none other than Walter Kronkite) and his zany alien sidekick Vorb (Jay Leno, joining Julia Child, Rhea Perlman, and Martin Short in a bonkers cast list seemingly assembled via dartboard) going back millions of years to capture a bunch of dinosaurs and give them sentience via magical cereal for no other reason than to satisfy some brats’ curiosity.

You might expect the motley crew of directors would have been able to draw plenty of comic mileage from this dinosaur-out-of-water scenario. But other than the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, where the reptiles’ plan to disguise themselves as animatronics is quickly foiled (rather aptly, a promotional Rex balloon ended up popping at the real-life thing), they seem more interested in teaching life lessons than bringing the laughs.

We’re Back does boast a couple memorable moments. Using new-fangled advances in digital animation, the sequence in which the dinosaurs swoop rich girl Cecilia Nuthatch (Yeardley Smith) and street urchin Louie (Joey Shea) across Manhattan no doubt visually impressed at the time. Short also gets the best sight gags as a clown who, after years of seeing his talents go underappreciated, delivers a masterclass of a resignation speech.

Screweye’s macabre demise scarred a generation of dinosaur lovers.


Then there’s the denouement where Neweyes’ evil brother Screweyes (Kenneth Mars) is devoured by a murder of crows, its nightmare-inducing quality highlighted by the fact the antagonist in Stephen King adaptation The Dark Half suffered the same fate that same year. Screweyes is the only character with any real semblance of personality and, thanks to a dastardly scheme to lure the good guys into his Eccentric Circus, any narrative momentum. Yet he’s also a problematic baddie, with his wicked ways attributed to an earlier crow attack in which he lost his left eye.

It’s little wonder the optioned sequel, Going Hollywood, didn’t even make it to the development stage. Likewise the fact Amblimation itself went extinct after just one further picture, the similarly underwhelming Balto. We’re Back isn’t the unmitigated failure its numbers suggest, but lacking a sense of imagination and, surprisingly for a Spielbergian picture, a sense of heart, it remains a disappointingly toothless attempt to make Jurassic Park-for-tots.

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