Blu-Ray Review: Walking with Dinosaurs

wwdbrThe gigantic voice talents of Justin Long (Alvin and the Chipmunks franchise) and John Leguizamo (Ice Age franchise) take you on a thrilling prehistoric journey the whole family will enjoy! In a time when dinosaurs rule the Earth, the smallest of the pack — a playful Pachyrhinosaurus named Patchi — embarks on the biggest adventure of his life. As he tries to find his place in a spectacular world filled with fun-loving friends and a few dangerous foes, Patchi will discover the courage he needs to become the leader of the herd…and a hero for the ages.

The film opens with Karl Urban (collecting a paycheck, I assume) and his kids off to dig up dinosaur bones.  His son Ricky dismisses the importance of a fossilized tooth previously discovered, and even has the nerve to mock the research regarding the correlation between dinosaurs and birds.  Electing to stay at the car while his dad and sister go digging, a talking bird voiced by John Leguizamo appears to tell him the story of a Pachyrhinosaurus named Patchi.  There is no correlation between this kid’s negative attitude and the bird’s story, but that doesn’t seem to matter.

Right off the bat, this felt like a really weird setup for the film.  However, I knew things were really going to go badly when the bird’s mouth didn’t move, but Ricky could understand him.  The bird sat there staring, as the voice-over telepathically communicated with Ricky.  I don’t know what the creative process was here, but it was very awkward to see a bird just sitting there staring while supposedly introducing this story.  It was when the bird morphed into what is supposedly an accurate depiction of what birds looked like in the Cretaceous era that I just about gave up.

However, as we were introduced to this dinosaur world, I couldn’t resist losing myself in this world.  I’ve always been a sucker for dinosaurs, and this film depicts them terrifically.  The backgrounds of the film are entirely real, but the dinosaurs are pure CGI.  They never look photo-realistic, but the way they are presented is truly beautiful.  Gorgeously lit and animated to convey the power and majesty of these creatures, I would much rather have seen a silent film or a straight-forward documentary with these same visuals.

Unfortunately, we have to sit through the clichéd story of Patchi’s rise to power in his herd.  The film spans several years as we watch Patchi’s herd migrate.  There are some action beats involving various other dinosaurs, and a pretty intense sequence involving Patchi’s dad.  Mostly though, it’s just a lot of walking.  Of course, along the way the screenwriters had to check off the list of cliches, including Patchi falling in love, getting in a rivalry with his brother, and on and on.  It’s never a question as to whether he’ll learn how to be a good leader.  It’s just a question of when these characters would stop being so annoying.

Not helping matters is the terrible voice-over work across the board.  Every performance reminded me of a kindergarten teacher reading a story to the students.  Every line was exaggerated just enough to not be an actual performance, but designed to convey an over-the-top mindset of that particular character.  Justin Long (an actor I greatly admire) voices Patchi, and I was never able to associate his voice with that character.  Likewise, John Leguizamo brings his typical lack of subtlety to the bird narrator.

I understand this is a movie for kids.  I also appreciate that throughout the film, they stopped the story to present dinosaur facts across the screen.  Really, really young kids will probably enjoy this, and maybe even find inspiration to do some research beyond the film.  A great place to start would actually be the extras on the Blu-Ray set.  The Ultimate Dino Guide is a pretty ingenious system, encouraging kids to interact with the extras.  Utilizing maps, games, and lots of visual stimulation, there are lots of opportunities to learn about the real dinosaurs these characters were based on.  It’s highly immersive, and for children truly interested, a great way to lose yourself in this virtual dinosaur encyclopedia.

It’s just a shame that the movie wasn’t even remotely good.  As the success of countless other children’s films have shown, kids don’t need to be pandered to.  They can handle a good story with compelling characters.  This film is so dumbed down, it’s almost insulting.  Still, it’s a beautiful movie, and while I personally couldn’t tune out the awful script and voice-work, some people might be able to let the visuals guide the experience.  Overall though, despite my love of all things dinosaur, I just can’t bring myself to recommend this to anybody but the very young.