Making the Grades
Disneynature brought animals like flamingos, chimpanzees and African cats to the big screen. But the BBC does one better. In 1999, the company aired a six-part television miniseries about dinosaurs. Using computer animation and animatronics, they recreated the huge, extinct beasts in a nature-style documentary. Now the series producers are behind a 3D film based on the television program.
Walking with Dinosaurs attempts to make the BBC’s educational programming more entertaining for kids. Don’t get me wrong, as a big fan of The Magic School Bus, I appreciate programs that educate while entertaining. Unfortunately, I don’t know that the BBC has found that magical balance between the two. The film opens in present day Alaska (a location chosen because of its similarity to dinosaurs’ surroundings in the Late Cretaceous period). Ricky (Charlie Rowe) and his sister Jade (Angourie Rice) are stuck with Uncle Zack (Karl Urban) while their parents are away. Piling the kids in his beat up vehicle, Zack takes them out for a day of dinosaur bone hunting. But all Ricky can think about is the lack of cell phone reception—at least until he meets a talking Alexornis named Alex.
As soon as the talking bird shows up you know this film will have a different flavor than the miniseries it is based on. While Kenneth Branaugh narrated the UK version of the documentary and Avery Brooks voiced the North American version, John Leguizamo (who voiced Sid the Sloth in Ice Age) lends his vocals to Alex, a prehistoric bird who talks with a Spanish accent and cracks jokes. The film includes some brief educational information about each dinosaur it introduces, but the story line is more reminiscent of Land Before Time —kids get lost, parents die, animals migrate. Much of the dialogue is made up of silly banter, some of which includes potty humor and mild sexual innuendo, along with sibling rivalry between dinosaurs Patchi (voice of Justin Long) and his brother Scowler (voice of Skyler Stone). While it’s meant to make the dinosaurs more kid-friendly, they end up sounding like Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
Patchi’s first escapade begins when a hungry Chirostenotes snatches him from his nest. Luckily Dad steps in to save his offspring but not before the little runt of the litter gets a chance to see the world outside of the sand pit where he lives. It is filled with danger and wonder as well. Soon afterwards, the herd of Pachyrhinosaurus begins their migration south. The arduous journey takes its toll on the herd and introduces the young dinosaur to all kinds of new creatures, some of which prefer meat dishes to greens.
The degree to which your child enjoys this film will likely have a lot to do with how much he or she likes dinosaurs. If they can spew facts about Gorgosaurus, Quetzalcoatlus or Edmontosaurus, then Walking with Dinosaurs is for them. If they prefer their dinosaurs to be purple and sing, you might want to wait for the video version.
Although the scenes are sanitized to the point that little blood is shown, animals either attack or are eaten in this movie, depending on their place on the food chain. Some fall through the ice on a frozen pond as well. Yet there’s no hint of what happens to the unfortunate beasts. The film also depicts several moments of peril for the young brothers and their friend Juniper (voice by Tiya Sircar).
With few other kid-oriented films releasing during the 2013 Christmas season, Walking with Dinosaurs should have little competition at the box office. However it’s hard to know if these talking reptiles can get audiences to stampede to the theater, or if they’ll get trampled in the holiday rush.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Walking With Dinosaurs.
Does giving human voices and emotions to the dinosaurs make the film more entertaining or does it distract from the documentary feel of the movie?
What qualities are important in the leader of the herd?