There’s something to be said for a movie that can provide both big-screen entertainment and education about a much-loved subject for its target audience. Unfortunately Walking With Dinosaurs: The 3D Movie aims for that but completely misses the mark. This is unlike its name sake Walking With Dinosaurs, the 1999 mini-series from the BBC. The graphic documentary was ahead of its time, and actually helped us understand a little more about prehistoric perils. The new version, on the other hand, takes us to the abstract and somewhat flat world of the make believe.
The plot starts off with an uncle, Zack (Karl Urban), who takes his eager niece Jade (Angourie Rice) and reluctant nephew Ricky (Charlie Rowe) on a paleontological excavation. Once they arrive, a bird called Alex (voiced by John Leguizamo) appears and starts talking to Ricky about the history of dinosaurs and why their story is so important.
We then travel back millions of years when we meet Patchi (voiced by Justin Long), the runt of a litter of his dinosaur herd. He struggles to keep up with his older, much stronger brother Cowler (Skyler Stone) as he travels with the herd during their migration for the winter, along the way meeting Juniper (Tiya Sircar), an amiable female dinosaur from another herd for whom he falls head over heels.
The film attempts to be both an adventurous tale of the dinosaurs’ journey across vast landscapes and a historical lesson about whatever dinosaur we come across but it succeeds at being neither. Its action isn’t exciting enough and its (paper thin) plot not compelling enough to be the former, while the information is not thorough enough to be a worthwhile example of the latter. Any kids who are not interested in dinosaurs won’t see the film anyway and any who are will already know most of the stuff the film presents. The film then finds itself walking an awkward middle ground, pleasing no one.
On the plus side it looks nice and the zoomed out shots of the dinosaurs migrating are beautiful and hint at the big-scale adventure it had the potential to be. But just when you settle into a visually sumptuous shot of scenery, up pops the unnecessary and relentless narration, annoying and inconsistent voice-acting (it’s never clear why we hear certain dinosaurs speaking and not others) and perfunctory explanations of each and every new dinosaur species we see.
It’s impossible for a dinosaur film that mixes live-action with CGI not to invite comparisons with Jurassic Park. Needless to say this pales in comparison to Steven Spielberg’s seminal blockbuster, both in how it utilizes its special effects and how it presents the spectacle. Watching the dinosaurs fight or trying to escape attack from predators feels weirdly lacking in peril, while the script’s over-reliance on juvenile humour and uncomfortable anthropomorphization perpetually cheapens it.
The people behind Walking with Dinosaurs: The 3D Movie don’t seem to understand that there’s a difference between talking at the same level as children, the intended audience, and talking down to them (read: kids are smarter than you think). While visually lovely in spite of the gimmicky 3D, this is a frankly silly, ineffective and weirdly misjudged mix of adventure and education.
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