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My Pet Dinosaur

There's not a lot to do in Brightwood, especially if you're a kid. Businesses are closing and people are moving away, because when you live in Brightwood you have a better than average chance of dying of cancer. Jake (Jordan Dulieu) lost his dad that way two years ago, so now it's just him, his rebellious older brother Mike (Harrison Saunders), and their mother Jennifer (Beth Champion). But things are about to change drastically, because the EPA has just ridden into town! Actually, they've sent Dr. Tansy (Christopher Gabardi), who's just arrived with his daughter Abbie (Annabel Wolfe).

One of the few places nearby is an Army base, and as probably often happens, there's a strong rivalry between base and town. Colonel Roderick (Rowland Holmes) particularly likes exercising his authority, which means he's often butting heads with local law enforcement, like Officer Farraday (Scott Irwin). He's sweet on Jennifer, so Mike can't stand him. Tensions between mother and sons are almost as high as between the Army and the police, in fact, as Mike constantly risks getting into serious trouble and Jake withdraws into himself.

One of Jake's friends, Charles (Tom Rooney), is obsessed with UFOs, which are often sighted in the area, and he thinks the forest is the place to look for them so Jake often gets dragged out on extraterrestrial hunts. Sadly they don't find any signs of alien life, but Abbie does collect a sample of some strange goo, saying it will make an excellent science project. Even though Jake is flunking chemistry, she encourages him to do some testing of the goo on his own. You can probably guess where this is going.

Through sheer accident or possibly divine intervention, the next thing Jake knows he has a dinosaur in his room -- specifically a cute, curious, vaguely stegosaurus-like dinosaur that changes color and is about the size of a kitten. He certainly plays like a kitten. Christening him Magnus, Jake resolves to hide his new friend, afraid that he'll be analyzed to death by scientists if anyone knows he exists... which, face it, is exactly what would happen in the real world. But Magnus isn't exactly housetrained, and as he grows up -- and up and up -- he soon isn't so easy to keep secret.

My Pet Dinosaur is a film that hearkens back to the beloved Spielberg classics of the 80's -- yes, like E.T., but also The Goonies or even the Spielberg-produced Super 8 . This is a movie where a group of determined teens can do nearly anything. Keeping one dinosaur safe should be a piece of cake, right? Well, maybe it isn't quite that simple, but the kids' efforts are outrageously fun and heartwarming to watch. Magnus is amazingly real, the villains perfectly villainous, and the young actors manage to carry the movie, though it's often Mike who steals the show.

And it's a show worth stealing, four out of five stars' worth. The editing is a bit off, with some of the scene changes a bit confusing, but overall it's a nostalgic and wonderful romp. If it wasn't for the cell phones and live streaming, you'd think these kids really were back in the 80's.

Magnus plays with toilet paper. See, he's part kitten.


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