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posted July 5, 2005
One imagines the best way to read Doug TenNapel's graphic novella about a boy and his dinosaur is to shut off the parts of brain that recoil from all that is maudlin and obvious and enjoy the idiosyncrasies of the visual storytelling. TenNapel displays a flair for character design, the story clips along like sturdy animation, and he has a goofy sense of comic timing that reminds me of jokes told by a very clean, very old, comedian -- someone who might appear on A Prairie Home Companion
. The story itself makes not a lick of sense. Well, it sort of makes Disney TV movie sense, which I would assume is the sort of place the project may ultimately end up, if it hasn't been sent down that road already. The plot, such as it is, involves a dinosaur popping up out of nowhere to aid and comfort a boy whose dog has recently died. The dog may or may not be spiritually related to the dinosaur. The townspeople, and you can almost see Dean Jones among them if you squint hard enough, react to the dinosaur as if it's a very large two-headed chicken or a cow with musical flatulence. They immediately organize political campaigns around it, use it to boost local tourism, have it do chores and other caricatured expressions of small-town practicality and naivete. TenNapel is not yet skilled enough as a writer to pull his story off in a way that feels natural instead of forced, or sweet instead of aggressively corny; some of the scenes feel like excised sketches from an episode of Hee-Haw
; they needed to be at least Mayberry RFD
. The ending in particular feels heavy-handed and near-shameless, although the natural audience for such a work may be too busy wiping a tear from the eye to really care.