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‘Walking with Dinosaurs’ movie more like TV fare

By Christopher K. Conner

British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) brought the “Walking with Dinosaurs” mini-series to American TV screens in 2000 after airing in the UK the previous year. After thirteen years, a reworked “Walking with Dinosaurs” appears on the big screen as a feature film.

The film version deviates from the documentary format of the original series, leaving behind the robust narrative voice of Avery Brooks (or Kenneth Branagh in the UK), the film is narrated by a bird that becomes part of the action (voiced by John Leguizamo). Beginning as a crow, Alex starts telling the story behind a broken Gorgosaurus tooth to the disinterested teen Ricky (Charlie Rowe). Ricky has chosen to stay behind while his sister and uncle hike to a dig site.

Alex describes his ancestor, an Alexornis and transforms into this prehistoric bird to continue his narrative. Alex describes the early childhood of a Pachyrhinosaurus named Patchy (voiced by Justin Long). Patchy is a runt and is bullied by his larger and stronger brother Scowler (Skyler Stone).

Patchy and Scowler’s father is the leader of the herd, and leads the others on their annual migration. Along the way, they are pursued by a group of Gorgosaurus leaving Scowler and Patchy orphans and separated from the herd.

The two brothers find their way to the herd of Juniper (Tiya Sircar), a young female Pachyrhinosaurus Patchy met in the forest. This herd eventually gets attacked by Gorgon and the three young Pachyrhinosaurus are separated from the group when they are washed down the river. Scowler leaves Patchy and Juniper behind while they are following a herd of Edmontosaurus.

Alone in the forest, Juniper and Patchy follow Patchy’s instincts and find their way to the summer feeding grounds where Juniper is reunited with her mother and Patchy with Scowler. All the while Alex is following Patchy and adding commentary.

Ultimately Patchy grows up and finds himself challenged in a head butting competition by the herd leader. Scowler steps in and improbably defeats the leader, becoming the new leader. Patchy’s instincts lead him to save the herd from Scowler’s bad leadership and in revenge, Scowler expels Patchy from the herd and leaves him to die in the forest.

Patchy regains his resolve to be with Juniper and finds his way back to the herd in time to save his brother from the Gorgon, resulting in the broken tooth that began the story.

This film version of “Walking with Dinosaurs” has lost most of the informative basis of the original mini-series. What remains are a few asides where children describe the genus of some creatures. Unlike the narrated series, this film’s narrator is another character in the story and the voices provide a level of anthropomorphism far beyond the original.

If the voices were removed and the narrator replaced with David Attenborough the story might be a bit more bearable. Sure some of the comedic asides would be lost, but I don’t think they would be sorely missed. As shown, Alex’s narration is annoying and wholly unnecessary.

One decision that did work for the film, at least from an audience perspective, was a general lack of blood. Often times documentaries of dinosaurs would appeal to kids, but might be a bit too graphic. Because these dinosaurs are being treated as children’s characters, it would have been too much for the kids to see the ultimate fate of Gorgon’s victims.

“Walking with Dinosaurs,” even in 3D, doesn’t really deserve an outing to the movies. Maybe when it gets rebroadcast on TV sometime in the future it’ll be worth seeing again with my younger two kids. Even then I doubt it will hold their attention for the full running time, and I can’t say I’d blame them for that.

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