Australia has long been at the forefront of special effects filmmaking, with some of the most talented animation and CG effects houses working in the country. While that talent is typically applied to overseas productions, films like Red Billabong have demonstrated its application for local audiences. With MY PET DINOSAUR, Emmy Award-winning Matt Drummond creates a fun family film that transforms the Central Tablelands of New South Wales into small town USA.
After a military experiment goes wrong, young boy Jake (Jordan Dulieu) accidentally creates a small dinosaur creature with the protoplasmic goo he and friend Abbey (Annabel Wolfe) discover. When the creature, who Jake affectionately dubs Magnus, starts to get exponentially larger, it’s a secret he can no longer keep from the military or his soon to be hectic town.
There’s more than a hint of Steven Spielberg in MY PET DINOSAUR, with visual references to Close Encounters of the Third Kind and more overtly to E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. Yet rather than simply ape his influences, which also draws sharp parallels to Pete’s Dragon, writer/director Drummond delivers a heartfelt tribute to the kind of nostalgic adventures that only exist in fantasy memory. Instead of following Stranger Things‘ trend of glorifying the 1980s, Drummond also updates his film to make it thoroughly modern, with precociously connected kids to match.
MY PET DINOSAUR is a quality production, almost completely transplanting the area surrounding Lithgow to the fictional US town of Brightwood. The occasional antipodean wall outlet gives some of the game away, and the accents of the young actors are all over the place, but the set design and photography is otherwise of an impeccable world-class standard. The heritage parks of Lithgow and the Wentworth Falls Lake area provide for a creepily gorgeous backdrop that looks alien even for those familiar with it, and Drummond makes atmospheric use of Lithgow’s Glow Worm Tunnel for a memorable scene.
Drummond supervises his own special effects department, using the skills he honed on 2014’s Dinosaur Island. The CG on the baby Magnus is adorable, blending the skin tones and textures seamlessly with a variety of surroundings. Drummond pushes the effects further as the creature grows, and adds a variety of miniature creatures as the military action ramps up.
MY PET DINOSAUR is an amazing achievement, proving that a combination of story-first genre filmmaking can be accomplished using local resources. Delightful and heartwarming, it’s also a great indicator of where independent filmmaking is headed in Australia at the moment. Let’s hope this is the first of many such achievements from Drummond.