Walking With Dinosaurs is bad. There’s no other way of putting it, except perhaps to add that it is depressingly bad.
Set 70 million years ago, the film follows the lacklustre adventures of a Pachyrhinosaurus called Patchi (see what they did there?) as he follows a paint by numbers plot in which a boy meets a girl and learns to be a hero by butting heads with other dinosaurs to prove his male supremacy, which also gets him the girl. I could go into how utterly insulting this kind of narrative is to anyone with an IQ higher than the Cretaceous period, but I won’t – I’ve got too many other good shots lined up.
Narrated by a brightly coloured Alexornis bird named Alex, who tells the quite literally plodding tale in a “humorous” pseudo Mexican accent, what few jokes there are come across as too referenced for kids and too dumb for adults (“This is beautiful” “Well, don’t get too attached, it is going to be an oil field one day” – was actually one of the better jokes.) As Patchi and his girlfriend-to-be get separated from the rest of the herd, they wander in and out of various minor adventures, until Patchi ends up in a fight with his big bully brother Scowler. Apparently the moral of the story is – and I quote from the marketing material – “that even the smallest hatchling can grow into a great and powerful leader.”
So combine a dumber than dumb story with a ninety minute narration by a character only slightly less irritating than Jar Jar Binks, and you start to get an idea of what type of film this is. There is also one very odd creative choice which further adds to the mess: Although the dinosaurs speak in a semi-sassy American-accented English, the animation is based on a realistic approach, meaning that even though the dinosaurs are “speaking,” we don’t see their lips move, leading to a series of shots in which the dinosaurs are walking away and we hear them, or in which, for example, a mouthed grunt is interpreted as, “I’m as quiet as a ninja.” Seriously.
This weird blend is exacerbated by the repeated profiling of dinosaurs as they crop up in the film, highlighting and naming them in a Pokemon cards style, all of which comes across more as an advertisement to buy the toy rather than providing any educational benefit. One dinosaur in particular, the Gorgosaurus (essentially identical to a T-rex but a bit smaller), looks set to end up in the Christmas stocking of every child taken to see the film.
A certain level of merchandising has become standard with films aimed at children these days, ever since George Lucas pulled one over on studio execs and laughed all the way to the bank by retaining the rights to the Star Wars merchandise. But in this movie, it’s almost too much. Firmly aimed at the Christmas market, Walking with Dinosaurs comes across as a lazy holiday cash grab from a wiser set of film execs who know that dinosaurs – along with superheroes and Star Wars – shift product off shelves.
The fact that this is slightly tempered by a BBC-esque desire to masquerade as an educational film, crossed with some very sub-Ice Age dialogue and characters, doesn’t help matters in the slightest. Incidentally, at one point a character popped his head up, and I actually mistook him for Scrat, the acorn chasing rodent from the far superior, much funnier Ice Age. It is by now pretty much a given that kid’s movies can be sophisticated, smart and appeal to all generations. Walking with Dinosaurs fails on all those fronts though.
Judging by the reception of the children in the audience at the screening I attended, the film will likely keep your five year old happy enough – or at least quiet for ninety minutes. The target audience seemed to have a fairly muted response upon leaving the screening, however, and a smattering of laughs at (very) occasional moments were generally drowned out by the sound of free popcorn being dutifully munched.
Bookended by a brief, awkward story about a paleontologist (Karl Urban) digging up a set of fossils in the present day, Walking with Dinosaurs will probably bemuse your younger kids (way, way below double digits in terms of age), and on the positive side, it didn’t hugely interfere with my afternoon nap. But be warned: There will likely be add on costs after taking your kids to see this – not the least of which may be having to explain to your five year old boy why smashing heads together with his brother over the girl next door is simply not the way we do things anymore.
Or, indeed, to the girl next door that not all men are boneheads.
With an insulting and lacklustre paint-by-numbers story, Walking with Dinosaurs comes across more as a shameless Christmas cash grab by studio execs advertising dinosaur toys rather than an actual film.