With Karl Urban, and the voices of John Leguizamo, Justin Long, Skyler Stone, Tiya Sircar. Written by John Collee. Directed by Barry Cook, Neil Nightingale. Rated PG for creature action and peril, and mild rude humor. 87 minutes.
What is it with kids and dinosaurs? Every so often there’s a new dinosaur movie that’s pitched directly to kids: “The Land Before Time,” “We’re Back,” “Dinosaur,” “Ice Age.” Now we get WALKING WITH DINOSAURS, which is a visually stunning animated 3D movie that purports to be the most accurate depiction of dinosaurs yet shown on screen. The action is stopped to identify the various creatures and, in line with current thinking, many of the predators are feathered rather than scaly.
So much for the merits of the film. Like most of the other dinosaur movies for children, it has to turn them into plucky characters youngsters can “root” for as they try to find their parents, not get eaten or, in some films, survive extinction. After a prologue in which two modern-day kids are forced to go exploring the Alaskan wilderness with their paleontologist uncle (Karl Urban), the action shifts to the animated past where the bird Alex (voice of John Leguizamo) tells the story of Patchi (Justin Long).
Patchi is a pachyrhinosaurus and the runt of his litter. In an early misadventure he is taken by a carnivorous predator but manages to escape and get rescued, leaving a hole in his horny crest in the process that will prove to be a distinguishing mark. The story involves what happens when the herd has to go south for the winter and Patchi’s parents––including his alpha male father––die in the process. Eventually, his brother Scowler (Skyler Stone) becomes leader, claiming Juniper (Tiya Sircar) with whom Patchi formed an earlier bond.
The movie is inspired by a similarly-titled BBC television series from the late ‘90s that tried to depict dinosaurs realistically. The new film isn’t interested in being a documentary, though, so it adds the treacly story that ends with the herd becoming endangered and Patchi saving the day. Sorry for the spoiler. Don’t tell your kids.
Where the film fails miserably is in trying to engage the adults in the audience. Young Patchi getting pooped on by another dinosaur is clearly for the kids. Alex telling him that the plain they’re crossing will one day be a big oil field is supposed to get a wry chuckle from the adults who know where all these dinosaurs are heading. It doesn’t work. Indeed, most of the attempts at humor don’t work, relying too much on modern-day references.
Following the screening, a parent remarked about how awful the film was before adding that the kids, of course, loved it. So for parents wondering if this is safe for their youngsters, the answer is yes, although there are some scary parts. If your children can handle something like “Bambi” or some other film where dying parents and forest fires are part of the story, they should be able to handle this. There’s no bad language or “adult material.” To the contrary, it’s all very childish except for some brief educational elements about the dinosaurs themselves.
So “Walking With Dinosaurs” gets this critic’s traditional back of the hand for this kind of kid’s movie: parents should flip a coin… and the loser has to take them.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide has just been released. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.