There are some movies that you walk into thinking “why am I seeing this? It’s not going to be good.”, but then you leave surprisingly impressed. That was Walking With Dinosaurs for me. At first glance, it seems like yet another dinosaur animated film, but upon viewing, it is so much more than that and deserves a chance.
Walking with Dinosaurs is BBC film based on a 1999 documentary miniseries of the same name. The difference is that this Walking with Dinosaurs iteration is that it not only teaches us about dinosaurs, but it also does so by weaving it into an interesting narrative. The film features computer animated dinosaurs in live-action settings. And boy, is it pretty. The CGI characters perfectly blend into the backgrounds and never seem out of the place. For the most part, the dinosaurs are very lifelike and realistic: no goofy faces, cartoony reactions or moving mouths. Book ended by two modern-day scenes of a disinterested teen who would rather chill on his cell phone than excavate some fossils with his sister and uncle in Alaska, Walking with Dinosaurs tells the story of three Pachyrhinosaurus named Patchi, Scowler and Juniper. Patchi and Scowler are brothers, with Patchi being the runt and Scowler being the over sized bully. Juniper is from a different herd, but very quickly catches the eye of the brothers. The story is narrated by a prehistoric bird, an Alexornis appropriately named Alex. The story follows the Pachyrhinosaurus as they grow up, migrate, and face the dangerous world of the Cretaceous period. There are only four talking characters in the movie–Alex, Patchi, Scowler and Juniper–and I thought that was a smart choice. To keep the movie from becoming Talking with Dinosaurs, these four characters do not move their mouths and speak, but rather their thoughts are simply voiced over. Even when they are speaking, they don’t have any human characteristics at all: no raised eyebrows, no smiles, nothing; they act and behave only as dinosaurs really would millions of years ago. All other characters make appropriate grunts and roars, but never speak with the main characters in any human way.
Now, let’s be real here. The dialogue (and love plot) is rather simply and very cheesy at times. I wonder why it was even needed at all. The story could have been presented with a narrator much like March of the Penguins and it would have been equally as engaging and fun, even for younger audiences. I think this would have made the film appeal to a wider audience because the voice-over dialogue in the trailers seem to dumb it down, making people think it’s a kid’s movie. That being said, I found this movie incredibly interesting. It excellently strikes a balance between being both educational and entertaining. The educational elements are fun: whenever we are introduced to a new species of dinosaur, the action stops, the dinosaur is brought to the front on a black background and a voice tells us it’s name and the name’s meaning. Then we un-pause and the action starts again. While some would think that this would ruin the momentum, it did not. It was fun to learn the name, see how it was spelled and ultimately leave the theatre a little more educated. Now, these educational segments stopped roughly halfway into the movie, which was a shame. I would have liked to be introduced to even more dinosaurs, even if they were somewhat insignificant to the plot.
I praise the types of dinosaurs the filmmakers chose to highlight in this film because they were rather unconventional and lesser known species. You won’t see any Tyrannosaurus Rex, Stegosaurus or Triceratops; instead you’ll meet new species like Pachyrhinosaurus, Gorgosaurus, Edmontosaurus and more. If you have younger children, particularly boys, they will love this film. Both my nephews, ages 5 and 3, who I took with me said they liked it more than Frozen (and trust me, they love Frozen). The animation, effects and characters were all computer animated and splendidly done. I was awe-struck at how well the characters blended into the live-action backgrounds. The backgrounds were shot in Alaska and New Zealand using the cutting-edge 3D Fusion Camera System used by James Cameron in Avatar. The final result is dynamic, incredibly realistic and worth seeing. Walking with Dinosaurs is educational and surprisingly entertaining. The dialogue is a bit unneccesary, but at least it’s scaled back to only a few characters. Overall, don’t count Walking with Dinosaurs out. It’s one final animation film of 2013 that’s worth seeing.