In spite of the rather glaring omission of "Walk the Dinosaur", "Walking with Dinosaurs" turns out to be a solid little family film. And even though it's not really "of" the holiday season in any other manner than in the nakedly commercial sense, it's still a movie that should appear on your "to-do" radar if you're the proud mom or dad to a youngin'. Yes indeed, "Walking with Dinosaurs" features of a fair amount of educational content, clever and photorealistic dinosaur CGI, and John Leguizamo voicing a prehistoric bird. What else would one need for a fun movie stew?
Now then, what can you expect out of "Walking with Dinosaurs"? Cartoon dinosaurs trying to eat other cartoon dinosaurs. But that's not necessarily a bad thing, and it's handled with, dare I say, a certain scientific elegance. Each time a new dinosaur appears, a graphic pops up with the name, notes if the dinosaur is an omnivore, carnivore, or herbivore, and then – for good measure – throws in the etymology of the dino name. Which means children will actually be learning a bit while consuming their entertainment.
To delve into plot, the genesis of "Walking with Dinosaurs" is rather awkward, even for a PG children's film. Uncle Zack (Karl Urban) is a paleontologist headed out to a fossil site with his young niece and nephew. Oddly, they speed down a dirt road in Alaska in a pickup truck, and there seems to be an effort being made to make this ride … adventurous? It's actually pretty strange, and really doesn't tie into anything else in the story, but the first couple of minutes feature this wacky score and Uncle Zack looking goofy about the impending frivolity of digging dinos. His niece (Angourie Rice) is excited, she's a bit younger, but his nephew (Charlie Rowe) is less than enthused about the whole field trip. He's the teenager type that is far more interested in cellular phone coverage than dinosaur bones. Uncle Zack tries to get him excited about discovering some history, but no dice, and once they get onsite young Ricky chooses to stay at the car and try to find service for his phone.
But then, outta nowhere, a crow appears, and then the crow morphs into an ancient bird. Yep, he's got a story to tell, the tale of Patchi (voiced by Justin Long), the little Pachyrhinosaurus that could. Patchi and his brother Skowler (voiced by Skyler Stone) are growing up in the last days of the Cretaceous period, 70 million years ago, back before things got so corporate. Patchi and Skowler are part of a large herd of Pachyrhinos, and their dad is the leader of their pack. Of course, as you probably already know, these are the dinosaurs that headbutt each other for dominance, and "Walking with Dinosaurs" will have plenty of that action to throw your way too. Thankfully, once the "dinosaur" angle of "Walking with Dinosaurs" starts the film is in much more fluid territory, to the point where they probably should have just started there in the first place.
Storywise, the only real criticism to be leveled at "Walking with Dinosaurs" is its stubborn insistence that narrative tension must be attained and then re-attained, though it's not clear whom this technique is meant to benefit. Surely adults in the audience must know the main character won't be killed off in a horrific manner, eaten by a pack of snapping and writhing predators, right? Where the children are concerned, I'm not sure where the "value add" comes from in going to this well three or four times, either. While they will probably will get a bit bent out of shape that this cool character they've been watching is about to get eaten up, but to what end? Yes, the story arc and pacing present themselves as potential liabilities here, no doubt about it, but again, these are minute-long problems, not movie-long ones. There's an ill-conceived love angle, and it's probably about ten minutes too long, but it's hard to get too persnickety about anything "Walking with Dinosaurs" is looking to accomplish because its big dinosaur heart is in the right place.
As we continue along the journey with Patchi and his lovable bird friend Alex (John Leguizamo) there's plenty of visual majesty and a number of good-natured laughs. This is one of the few films that actually has an argument as to why it should be presented in 3-D, and the effects are first rate. Everything transpires in about the manner you'd expect, and there's nothing remotely challenging about the material, but overall you'll walk away feeling entertained. And your children? Well, you may have a whole new epoch to consider afterward, the one where you end up buying a bunch of dinosaur books and toys.
SCORE: 6.7 / 10
Laremy wrote the book on film criticism and thinks it was a bad idea to name them the Toronto Raptors.