An ecologically themed anime, Age of the Great Dinosaurs opens with live action footage of Tokyo’s crowded, pollution clogged streets intercut with cartoon dinosaurs rampaging through the prehistoric past. Our young hero Jun (voiced by Chikao Otsuka) is horrified to see a construction crew lay waste to flowers and trees. A sensitive lad, he muses on the damage being done to the environment. Strange lights in the sky lead Jun to the beach where he meets pretty Remi (Hiroko Suzuki) and her bratty brother Chobi (Ichiro Nagai). A huge, talking UFO - whose spectacular entrance is modelled on that of the mothership from Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) - transports the inquisitive kids back to the Cretaceous Period to learn some harsh lessons about humanity’s past, present and possible future.
Age of the Great Dinosaurs is just such a movie. A tad preachy at times, but sincere and endowed with striking, near-psychedelic visuals that make remarkable use of light and colour, alongside Ishinomori’s appealing character designs. Rock band Shogun contribute a fine score that goes from haunting melodies to awesome disco-funk. Intended as an educational movie, this is remarkable honest about the harsh realities of nature and features impressively gory dinosaur battles. Our child heroes discover a batch of friendly, newly-hatched triceratops and flee a scary, red-eyed tyrannosaurus rex dubbed with Godzilla’s roar. In a gruesome touch you won’t find in American cartoons, he gobbles all the babies save for one, before being gorily speared in the eye by plucky, little Chobi.
Aside from one humorous vignette where dinosaurs goof around with glowing fireflies, this takes an almost docu-drama approach. A range of dinosaurs are shown in action and each given a mini bio or list of factoids. Caught in a time warp, as their baby triceratops rapidly grows to adulthood, the kids journey forward to see tectonic plates shift, volcanoes explode, icecaps melt and mankind evolve from tiny mammals into Cro-Magnon cavemen. The script makes a slight gaffe by having a lone T-Rex hang around to plague mankind (“That’s impossible!” says dino-expert Jun, and he’s right), but this twist does have a point.
Chobi falls in love with a little cave girl and intervenes when her mother is offered in sacrifice to the monster by a crazy skull-masked midget priest. But when Chobi throws his spear, Ishinomori cuts to a montage of war, atomic bombs and contemporary violence, which hints this little boy embodies not just mankind’s indomitable spirit, but also its appetite for self-destruction. The monster’s death is not triumphant, but mournful. It ends on a warning for mankind’s future, leaving poor Jun even more worried than before, and a then-trendy English language theme song (“Love is the waaaaaaaaayyyyy!!!”).