Review: 'Walking with Dinosaurs' is a bit literal
What is it with cartoon dinosaur movies and migrating?
Ever since The Land Before Time1 featured a group of dinosaurs migrating through a barren wasteland, animated prehistoric animals have been moving en-mass just ahead of some sort of astronomical, geological or climactic cataclysm – all three at once, if they’re unlucky – that is implied will lead to the extinction of all creatures not our heroes, whose species will die out with them. A rather bleak fate, actually.
Let’s see… Disney’s Dinosaur featured a mass migration after an asteroid strike and a horrible drought. And this doesn’t just extend to dinosaurs; when I said prehistoric animals, I meant prehistoric animals. The first Ice Age and at least two of its sequels featured mass migrations ahead of disaster (I still haven’t seen the one with actual dinosaurs, but I assume migration plays some part); even prehistoric humans are not immune, as The Croods proved last year.
Now comes Walking with Dinosaurs (sometimes retitled Walking with Dinosaurs: 3D or Walking with Dinosaurs: The Movie), which is about dinosaurs putting on a prehistoric stage production of Les Misérables.
Just kidding, they migrate.
1 I’m sure there are earlier examples, but as child of the eighties, my knowledge of pop culture abruptly begins circa 1985; nothing, as far as I know, exists before - just like the rest of the Internet.
On the other hand, this is nominally an educational movie, so the dinosaurs are migrating because that’s literally what they do; the dinosaurs in question are Pachyrhinosaurus, one of those horny headed dinosaurs that aren’t Triceratops, so you don’t know them. About all we know for sure about these dinosaurs is that they migrated, like, a lot. It’s what happens when you’re a herbivorous dinosaur who lives in the Arctic Circle (which was a bit warmer back in the day, apparently; the movie doesn’t ever really explain that, but that isn’t inaccurate).
The main characters are the runty Patchi (voice of Justin Long) his older, alpha male brother, Scowler (voice of Skyler Stone) and the dinosaur equivalent of the girl next door, Juniper (voice Tiya Sircar). We meet our hero in the nest, where a misadventure causes him to gain a hole in his head, literally. This becomes important later, but also allows us to pick the guy out of a herd or more-or-less-identical CGI dinosaurs. Anyway, the characters are introduced, then they start migrating before night falls. (Arctic Circle, remember?) During the various migrations, they have adventures, grow up, and Patchi and Scowler become rivals for Juniper’s affections/leader of the herd.
There is also a bizarre framing story for the movie, which involves a crow telling the story of the movie to a modern kid who has possession of a fossilized tooth that is important. The crow is used to be an Alexornis voiced by John Leguizamo in a past life, and now he can remember that life and talk to humans, because this is an educational movie. Anyway, he provides narration and comic relief for the movie.
At this point, pointing out that adding a talking animal story to the old BBC series Walking with Dinosaurs was a bad idea is about like pointing out The Hobbit didn’t need to be three movies by now, but that’s not going to stop me from doing it. This was a bad idea.
If you’re unfamiliar with the old BBC TV specials, they were basically CGI dinosaurs pretending to be the subject of nature documentaries, instead of eating people or migrating in kids’ cartoons like they normally do. There were a number of spinoffs for various other ancient creatures, but eventually, the series, like the creatures it covered, died off.
Now, just like everything else, it has been uncovered and turned into a movie, and they decided to add comic relief and a story and other things that may appeal to kids. I guess? My screening was bereft of kids, so they weren’t exactly super appealed that night.
Anyway, other than bizarre love of fourth wall gags (a T. rex roaring at the camera causing it to be covered in spit, and one of the cameras in the Walking with Prehistoric Beasts actually knocked over by a baby Baluchitherium attack, for example), the show took itself remarkably seriously. If you had any love for the old TV specials, the constant gags of this movie would be annoying, even if they were funny. They mostly aren’t.
While we’re here, one final rant; lay off T. rex’s arms, guys. Yes, they’re small. I’m sure this joke was old when T. rex walked the Earth. It wasn’t funny the first time it was pointed out to me when I was five, stupid and laughed at most anything; it certainly isn’t funny now, when I’m an adult who only laughs at pretty most anything; and I’ve seen the joke, without variation, approximately as many times as there are years since the dinosaurs went extinct. This movie doesn’t even feature a T. rex, but still feels obliged to pull out that old chestnut and use it for an extended gag that goes on for minutes. Okay, I didn’t time it, but it felt measurable on a geological time frame.
This was just a bad idea, executed badly. What else is there to say? I guess I’ll note I couldn’t remember what the dinosaurs were in this movie, and had to look them up, but I still remember the baby Baluchitherium from Walking with Prehistoric Beasts, and didn’t have to look it up. Just wrote that sucker down. That should tell you something.
Note: I did not see this in 3D, and though the fourth wall gags of the series might have been cool in 3D, they were missing here.