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Diplodocus Review: Love Letter To Comics

A boy drives a motorcycle with a green dinosaur behind him in the animated film Diplodocus

Diplodocus is a likeable animated adventure that will work wonders for young kids, even if it struggles to make the most of its excellent premise.

Director: Wojtek Wawszczyk
Original title: Smok Diplodok
Genre: Animated
Run Time: 93′
Annecy Premiere: June 11, 2024
Release Date: TBA

As I watched Diplodocus, I cast my mind back to my 8 year old self, when I would spend every moment of every day drawing and writing my own comic books, before proudly showing them off to anyone who had nothing better to do. If that kid could have seen Wojtek Wawszczyk’s latest animated/live-action hybrid, I think he probably would have lost his mind.

Metacommentary is nothing new in the realm of comic books, works like Grant Morrison’s iconic “Animal Man” are often seen as exemplars of the medium, but I can’t think of the last time I saw a film attempt that same kind of fourth-wall breaking narrative using comics as a plot point. On a purely conceptual level, Diplodocus deserves heaps of praise, even if I wish it did more to expand on that brilliant premise.

Inspired by the works of Polish comic book artist Tadeusz Baranowski, Diplodocus follows the titular dinosaur (Mikołaj Wachowski) who finds himself on an adventure through a variety of colourful, fun worlds after he accidentally makes a wish with repercussions much worse than he ever could have imagined. He quickly finds himself teaming up with a whole host of wacky, ridiculous characters, such as the mean-spirited but incompetent wizard Hocus Pocus (Borys Szyc) and the somewhat-brilliant scientist Nervekowsky (Arkadiusz Jakubik), to try and reverse his wish and escape the impending “blankness”. However, what makes the film unique is that this is only one half of its story, as all of the previously mentioned characters are actually just comic book characters, created by struggling artist Ted (Piotr Polak), with the “blankness” actually being his eraser.

Immediately thanks to this twist, the film opens the door to all kinds of interesting narrative possibilities. Ted spends the film being hounded by a comically over-the-top publisher (Helena Englert) who demands that he discards his childhood dream of drawing dinosaurs to instead focus on something cuter and more appealing to the mainstream. It’s an intriguing storyline for Diplodocus to explore, especially given just how prevalent the issue of overbearing executives is in mainstream media as a whole nowadays. However, Diplodocus isn’t interested in exploring this issue in too much depth, instead wanting to tie up its storylines with nice, wholesome conclusions, the kind that would have been hard to pull off if it really dove into some of the issues that it presents. 

A green dinosaur stands on the left looking at a princess, a wizard, and a man with a long white beard in the animated film Diplodocus
Diplodocus (PFX / Annecy Film Festival)

I can hardly hold that against Diplodocus, an animated film that is very obviously targeted towards young children, but what it does mean is that the live-action storyline lacks anything too interesting narratively. Especially in the film’s first half, the two halves can feel somewhat disjointed, with Ted’s arc often feeling like it’s spinning its wheels, waiting for its animated cast to catch up so that the two stories can finally merge. A lot of that feeling is because Ted’s story is just far too simple. The second that the publisher leaves and Ted is left with the dilemma of if he should draw what she wants or what he wants, it only has one place to go, but the film still has an hour and a half to go before it can reach it, leading to a lot of scenes that feel like they only exist to remind us that Ted is in this movie. It’s a shame, as it feels like a waste of the film’s unique selling point and the thing that makes it so conceptually exciting.

Diplodocus’ adventures are a lot more consistently entertaining. Whilst the characters they introduce and the places they visit never feel particularly unique, there’s a nice energy to it all that keeps things moving along at a fun, breezy pace. This is helped by its pleasant visuals, which are never anything mind-blowing but do just enough to give the film its own sense of style. When things start getting really meta, the film really starts to have fun with how it looks, blending together a couple of different art styles to give everything a far more chaotic feel. With that being said, I would have loved to have seen the film embrace comic book art a bit more. Tadeusz Baranowski’s art style especially is so charming that it feels like such a shame to discard that in favour of a more accessible 3D style. 

Despite its simplicity, there’s still a lot to like about the film’s script. Its second half is a lot weirder than most animated films would be willing to go, which I appreciate, and there were quite a few jokes that put a smile on my face. Whilst Diplodocus’ best character is easily the philosophical donkey (Mariusz Szczygieł) who pops up occasionally to talk nonsense, the whole cast is a lot more entertaining and bearable than most movies intended for a similar audience. No one character stands out as being particularly grating, though if I did have to pick a least favourite, it would probably be the main protagonist, who’s seemingly constant whining, whilst somewhat useful as it does remind the kids watching what the characters are looking for, can get a bit overbearing for my tastes. 

Diplodocus Teaser (PFX

Whilst it may not live up to its potential, Diplodocus is still a lot more interesting than your standard animated film. It never quite feels like the love letter to comic books that it seemingly wants to be, but it’s got enough twists and turns to stay consistently interesting, especially when paired with its likeable cast and dialogue. It’s nothing to write home about, but I imagine it’ll work wonders for any kid who spends their day doodling. At the very least, it made me want to pick up a pen again and continue that epic graphic novel that my 8 year old self abandoned, and that, to me, is enough.

Diplodocus premiered at the Annecy Film Festival on June 11, 2024. Read our Annecy reviews of The Imaginary and Spermageddon.

The Imaginary Review: Heartbreaking Anime Film – Loud and Clear
The Imaginary may wear its influences on its sleeve, but its gut-wrenching emotional moments and gorgeous animation more than make up for it.
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