Walking With Dinosaurs is a movie researched, written, directed and voiced by adults, and yet it would make even the youngest adult wish The Land Before Time was playing instead. That movie was made for children, and it was charming in the way it depicted a bunch of adolescent dinosaurs banding together to find their lost families. This movie is also made for children and, with all the wonders of modern day technology at its fingertips, is about as dull and fruitless as Peter Dinklage trying to hoist the Big Show.
It doesn’t help that a number of the main characters — who are in fact dinosaurs — have human voices that communicate without visible lip movement. Dinosaurs were ferocious and tragic, yes, but I didn’t know they were also telepathic. What’s even more bewildering is that the dinosaurs groan and roar under their voices. It’s like they have two vocal channels; one of course exists primarily in their minds.
I respect the Walking With Dinosaurs TV series on which this movie is based. BBC approached it as it would a nature documentary helmed by Attenborough, and while I question a lot of the facts that the show presented, I cannot question its achievement as a grounded documentary. For a long while I was hooked on it, even going so far as to watch its spin-off series that gradually declined in quality the closer they got to madness.
The biggest miscalculation made by the people behind this movie is their belief that dinosaurs are primarily tools for children. The television series appealed to all; this movie appeals to none. Indeed, not even the 5-year olds with their Walking With Dinosaurs popcorn cups will find it entertaining.
The plot centres on a pachyrhinosaurus named, well, Patchi (Justin Long), who must overcome his small body size to eventually lead his herd. If you don’t know what a pachyrhinosaurus is, don’t fret. No one does. In fact, none of the dinosaurs introduced in this picture have familiar names. There’s a gorgosaurus and a troodon, and a chirostenotes and an edmontosaurus. What happened to tyrannosaurus? Do children already know enough about him?
Patchi has an older, more hot-tempered brother named Scowler (voiced by an actor named Skyler; a little in-joke perhaps), a close prehistoric bird friend named Alex (John Leguizamo), and a potential mate named Juniper (Tiya Sircar), and they are the only ones in the story who “speak”. None of the adults do. They roar and grunt as if forced into silence by a generation of blockheaded toddlers. The result makes for very misshapen storytelling.
The screenplay is penned by John Collee, even though the movie’s closing credits list Gerry Swallow as having written the characters’ dialogue. The decision to make the animals anthropomorphic came at the last minute by studio heads, and so Swallow must have been brought on board and expected to churn out words as quickly as he could think them. There is a bit of narration by Leguizamo that goes “Days turned into weeks; weeks turned into weekends; weekends turned into long weekends. You catch my drift”. Surely Swallow must have known that days and weeks and hours hadn’t existed in prehistoric times. Neither had lions, yet he manages to include them in too.
At the end of it all, I as an adult had to ask myself: What have I learnt about these dinosaurs that I hadn’t already known? The answer is, “Their names. And whether they’re carnivores or not”. You can transplant this story to the African savanna, replace pachyrhinosauruses with wildebeest, gorgosauruses with lions and the children will never know the difference. You can save on CGI money too.
Best Moment | Alex describing the gorgosaurus and laughing about its small arms.
Worst Moment | Everything else. Especially the misguided pop song soundtrack. How in the world did they get permission for “Tusk”?