At The Picture Show
Walking with Dinosaurs
That should have been the strategy for 'Walking with Dinosaurs,' a hybrid docu-adventure ruined by a near-constant stream of dinosaur dialogue
Walking with Dinosaurs
20th Century Fox
Director: Barry Cook and Neil Nightingale
Screenplay: John Collee
Starring: The voices of Justin Long, John Leguizamo, Tiya Sircar and Skyler Stone
Rated PG / 1 hour, 27 minutes
December 20, 2013
(out of four)
Seeing a movie like Walking with Dinosaurs makes me feel sorry for my parents. Once upon a time, they would have taken me to a movie like this. I would have been dumb enough to ask them to take me, and they would have said yes, and we would have suffered through these 87 minutes together, alone in the darkness. I'm ashamed to admit I would probably have enjoyed it at one time. My parents would have kindly pretended to.
But this is why we turn six. So that we no longer enjoy movies like this - movies that pretend to want to educate us but gloss over anything that would be remotely educational; movies that target a young demographic and then condescend to it by having adult actors do bad kiddie voices with bad kiddie dialogue that would barely pass muster in a Saturday morning cartoon, let alone an $80 million holiday tentpole.
Indeed, that one element - the voices - pushes this movie from simply mediocre to utterly miserable, and at times genuinely difficult to watch. It's the difference between the Morgan Freemany American version of March of the Penguins, and the original French version with the cutesy narration by the penguins themselves.
I remember seeing an early teaser for Walking with Dinosaurs that focused on the historical perspective and the scope of the production, and it looked passable enough. I had no idea until some time later that the dinosaurs would be talking. Annoyingly. (Their mouths don't move, either, so the voices almost feel like they were a last-minute decision.)
And they don't just talk every now and then - it's the entire time. To the extent that it completely overpowers everything else the filmmakers are presumably trying to do. Amid all the available and interesting historical detail at their disposal, and despite the title cards that introduce each type of dinosaur and its eating habits, Walking ultimately offers nothing but a trite coming-of-age story. Why bother with those title cards if the film isn't going to explore anything else about these dinosaurs? Are the filmmakers merely trying to train the children in the audience to succeed at future dinosaur-themed pub trivia nights?
The film introduces us to Patchi (voiced by Justin Long), a young Pachyrhinosaurus accompanying his family on his first migration. He's the runt of the litter, of course, and he's picked on mercilessly by his brother Scowler (who I assume was named Scowler so as not to confuse the voice actor, Skyler Stone, during the recording sessions). Patchi meets a girl, Juniper (Tiya Sircar), and falls into whatever the dinosaur equivalent of puppy love is. Meanwhile, his father gets killed in a fight with a rival dinosaur, leaving Patchi and Scowler (as well as the rest of the family, who are never focused on or heard from after the opening scenes) to fend for themselves and grow into leaders of the herd.
Oh, and just in case the film wasn't cutesy enough, Patchi also has a bird sidekick friend, Alex (John Leguizamo), who handles the heavy lifting of the movie's narration, explaining all the things the filmmakers were apparently unable to do themselves.
Our heroes walk south, get into fights, then walk back north, and then the movie is over. Patchi's maturation progresses exactly as you would expect it to, and along the way the filmmakers miss opportunity after opportunity to really make this a worthwhile journey of some kind. I humbly submit that the decision to make this exclusively a kids' story was the movie's undoing; unconstrained by that narrow focus, who knows how well the movie could have worked. As it is, all I wanted was for Patchi to shut up.
Shut up, Patchi.
It's enough to make us question the intentions or purpose behind the movie in the first place. Much of it takes on the style of a nature documentary, including the use of actual location shots, with the CGI dinosaurs added on top. Entire sequences during the migration could work perfectly well on their own, from both a narrative standpoint and a historical one. But then there's the persistent, unnecessary and unwanted intrusion of the talking child dinosaurs and their cringe-worthy witticisms. If 5-year-olds are entertained, fine; but 5-year-olds deserve much better entertainment than this.
Read more by Chris Bellamy