The famed BBC TV documentary series Walking With Dinosaurs used cutting edge computer animation to conjure the prehistoric dinosaur world and explore it like a David Attenborough documentary. The Hollywood movie-length re-imaging of Walking with Dinosaurs, however, pays scant regard for the original concept, transforming it into a tween-friendly family adventure. Consequently, the film is severely let down by cutesy, quirky characters, unfunny gags and contemporary pop-cultural references which might appeal to the youngsters but leave a sour taste for those who enjoyed the BBC series.
In a largely unnecessary bracketing device, sullen hoodie wearing American teen Ricky (Charlie Rowe) is dragged along on a paleontological expedition with his uncle Zack (Karl Urban) and his younger sister Jade (Angourie Rice). His contempt for the whole exercise is extinguished when a talking bird (no the kid hasn’t been smoking anything) tells him the story of a precocious young dinosaur named Patchi’s (Justin Long) adventures with his herd of Pachyrhinosaurs and the link between Patchi’s story and uncle Zack’s latest fossil find.
Patchi is the stereotypical cute, lovable hero who proliferates in animated adventures. Innocent and happy-go-lucky he’s forced to confront the world’s dangers armed only with optimism, humour and his sense of decency. As his herd, led by his father, head south for the Alaskan winter, he’s attacked by all manner of creatures including fearsome Gorgosaurs who look like T-Rex’s cousin and his brother Scowler (Skyler Stone) who, like some sort of dinosaur jock, is vying for control of the herd. Equally unnerving for Patchi are his first tentative steps into romance with female Pachyrhinosaurs Juniper (Tiya Sircar). Along the way Patch is aided by his side-kick Alex, a prehistoric version of the talking bird (John Leguizamo) who talks like a character out of Happy Feet.
While the characters in Walking with Dinosaurs are very clichéd and the script disappointingly similar to many animated family adventures including 2000’s Dinosaurs, the film at least offers stunning visuals. The mix of astonishingly detailed and realistic cgi with scenes of actual mountainous landscapes (New Zealand standing in for Alaska) are often breath-raking. The film also contains some exciting action set-pieces as Patchi’s herd are pursued by the marauding carnivores.
The quality of the visuals just makes it all the more disappointing that the marketing committee who got their paws on this film had to cheapen it by trying to appeal to the tween demographic. The film has a token gesture toward its documentary origins with occasional on-screen captions denoting dinosaur names and eating habits but this barely compensates for what has been lost.
Nick’s rating: **1/2.
Director(s): Barry Cook, Neil Nightingale
Release date: 1st Jan 2014
Running time: 87 mins.
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