Dinosaur movies pretty much all have the same plot. Unless it is a fantasy like “Jurassic Park,” the story is pretty simple: the dinos have to migrate and there are a lot of encounters and adventures along the way. What separates Walking With Dinosaurs 3D from earlier entries like “The Land Before Time” and Disney’s then-state-of-the-art “Dinosaur” is the beauty and majesty of the great creatures, marred a bit by a jokey script with too much focus on poop and barf jokes, silly winks at the audience about the animals’ “future as an oil field,” and distracting anthropomorphism.
A brief prologue set in modern day has a brother and sister visiting their paleontologist uncle (“Star Wars’” Karl Urban) in Alaska. The girl is excited by the broken tooth found by her uncle and happy to accompany him to the dig to see if they can find more bones. But her older brother is bored. “I’m not really into digging for dead things.” He’d rather text his friends about how lame everything is.
But then a bird (voice of John Leguizamo) appears to explain that “Every fossil tells a story.” He transforms into his prehistoric ancestor, garishly colored with trailing trail feathers and toothy-looking protuberances from his beak, to narrate the story of his friend Patchi (voice of Justin Long), from just after hatching as the runt of the nest to adulthood and becoming a father with his own eggs to guard.
Our hero is Patchi, a Pachyrhinosaurus (thick-nosed lizard), whose early run-in with a predator leaves a hole in his frill that helps us identify him as he goes from hatchling to adolescent to adult. He is a cheerful, curious, friendly vegetarian, a bit in the shadow of his alpha male older brother, Scowler (voice of Skylar Stone). Their father is the pack leader who shows the rest of the tribe the way when it is time to migrate. But along the way there is danger, especially from predatory meat-eaters who find the plant-eaters delicious. Patchi’s parents are killed (off-screen) protecting their young. Scowler takes over via head-butt battle, and it looks like he may take over the pretty female Patchi likes as well (Tiya Sircar as Juniper). Will brains triumph over brawn?
Kids in the audience seemed to enjoy the slapstick and potty humor and it is possible that it tempered the scarier themes. It will certainly make fans of the television series happy, and, I hope, inspire curiosity about the real stories that fossils tell. Viewers with more serious interest in dinosaurs will want to take advantage of the Blu-Ray’s “Cretaceous” option and skip the human voices.
Parents should know that this film has dinosaur-era violence, characters in peril, injured and killed, sad deaths of parents, and potty humor.
Family discussion: Why did Patchi and Scowler make different choices? Which was your favorite kind of pre-historic creature and why?
If you like this, try: the television series and visit your local natural history museum to learn more about dinosaurs