The Steven Spielberg Sci-Fi Epic That Killed An Entire Movie Studio

By Sckylar Gibby-Brown | Published

steven spielberg jaws

For those of us who grew up in the 90s, you might remember an animated dinosaur movie called We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story. This 1993 independent animation follows the lives of two tweens in New York and a group of four dinosaurs who time-traveled from the past as they try to escape the grasp of a mad circus owner named Professor Screweyes.

We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story

If you remember anything about We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story, you might have thought it was part of a fever dream, but it was the real deal, and it’s also the feature that led to the extinction of Steven Spielberg’s animation studio.

If you’ve paid attention to anything in Hollywood for the past 30 years, then you might remember another dinosaur movie from Speilberg that was also released in 1993 called Jurassic Park.

Dinosaurs Were Trending

Bringing in $1.057 billion, Jurassic Park was the highest-grossing film of that year and everybody wanted a piece of the cake.

According to Inverse, that year the T-Rex was trending big time and even Steven Spielberg thought he could squeeze a bit more out of the popular ancient reptiles, so he made We’re Back

A few years earlier, Spielberg founded the animation studio Amblimation and so far it had only produced one movie: An American Tail: Fievel Goes West.

Time-Traveling Dinosaurs

we're back

With dinosaurs on the rise, Spielberg marked We’re Back as his next animation adventure, ordering his animation team to work on it at the same time as Balto (another indie animated film from the 90s you might remember).

Released only five months after the Prehistoric mega-hit that Jurassic Park, Spielberg was probably convinced the adaptation of Hudson Talbott’s children’s book about time-traveling dinosaurs would be a surefire hit.

Bad At The Box Office

we're back

However, the reality proved to be a far cry from expectations. The adaptation of We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story struggled to make a mark at the box office, grossing just $9.3 million — less than half the film’s $20 million budget.

The movie faced stiff competition, opening the same week as the family-friendly classic Mrs. Doubtfire, which would end up becoming the second biggest movie of the year.

Other Challenges

we're back

But even if Robin Williams’ nanny movie hadn’t become an instant classic, it’s not likely We’re Back would have seen the success Steven Spielberg was hoping for.

The movie faced a myriad of challenges behind the scenes, marked by constant meddling and the involvement of four different directors simultaneously.

Simon Wells, Phil Nibbelink, and the Zondag brothers found themselves juggling multiple projects, including the aforementioned Balto and an ill-fated attempt to animate Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats (we’re all glad that movie didn’t make it past the cutting room floor).

Harsh Criticisms

we're back

After making it through the chaos of the studio, We’re Back next faced the harsh criticisms of test audiences who ordered a million dollars in changes.

Even a hodge-podge of the 90s best actors (including John Goodman, Felicity Kendal, Charles Fleischer, Jay Leno, Walter Kronkite, and Martin Short) couldn’t save the feature.

While there was potential for a charming comedy about dinosaurs, the film ended up becoming a movie about life lessons featuring a couple of whiney pre-teens, neither of which enticed audiences to pay money to see the film at the theaters.

The disappointingly toothless attempt to replicate the success of Jurassic Park left We’re Back struggling at the box office. The optioned sequel, Going Hollywood, never saw the light of day, and Amblimation itself expired after the release of Balto (which also tanked at the box office).