Walking With Dinosaurs
Opens Fri., Dec. 20 at Pacific Place and other theaters. Rated PG. 87 minutes.
This new feature is based on a 1999 BBC series that took a serious approach to visualizing the world of dinosaurs. Such seriousness extended to the absence of, for instance, talking animals, which would have been an unconscionable sop toward attracting a kiddie audience. In fact, the makers of the new film intended to use the same approach. Now, what do you suppose are the odds that 20th Century Fox would sink $60 million into an animated movie that didn’t have talking dinosaurs?
And so we have Walking With Dinosaurs, starring the voices of Justin Long as a li’l baby dino named Patchi and John Leguizamo as Alex, the prehistoric bird narrating the story. The script by John Collee (he wrote Happy Feet) includes gags about the tiny arms of the T-Rex and the copiousness of dinosaur poop—although, to be fair, both of those examples are historically accurate. Our heroic young pachyrhinosaurus tags along with the annual migration from Alaska and back again, learning how to fend off predators and the weather as he grows into manhood . . . er, dino-hood. The movie’s pretty underdone as drama, with Patchi’s rivalry with older bro Scowler (Skyler Stone) the main bone of contention. In that sense, although the movie is a technical marvel, it’s hard to predict what the audience is going to be. Kids are bound to get restless, despite the opening period of baby-dino romping; and adults looking for an Animal Planet sort of spectacle will have to put up with talking dinosaurs. (It’s all voice-over, by the way—the creatures’ mouths don’t move. One of the strangest exercises in internal monologue ever.)
Despite all this, the movie looks incredible (and is meant for 3-D, which is the way you should see it if you’re still inclined). The backgrounds are generally authentic locations (Alaska and New Zealand in the starring roles), with the digitally generated creatures then added to the landscapes. So while I didn’t care much about the unfolding story, I was frequently astonished by the crisp visions that seamlessly made the dinosaurs come to credible life in their natural habitats. Now if they would just stop talking . . .