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Ebiri on Walking With Dinosaurs: Prehistoric Potty Humor That Lands With a Splat

There’s still something so fundamentally awesome about dinosaurs. Go to a dinosaur exhibit sometime — it could be one of those animatronic ones, or just a regular old fossil display — and, as you stand there marveling at the creatures, ask yourself two questions: (1) Can you believe such things existed? and (2) Do you think poop jokes would make the experience more compelling?

You’d think it’d be hard to screw up a movie about dinosaurs, and yet Hollywood keeps doing so. Walking With Dinosaurs 3D, an attempt to create a kid-friendly movie tied to the famous 2000 BBC TV series, is but the latest offender. The problem is clear from the very beginning, with its framing device of two young kids who are out on a trip with their paleontologist uncle (Karl Urban). The boy is bored — because there’s nothing that bores young kids as much as, you know, dinosaurs — even after they’re presented with a real gorgosaurus tooth. The tike’s interest piques, however, when he’s approached by a wisecracking crow (voiced by John Leguizamo), who then morphs into a prehistoric parrot and begins narrating a tale about a submissive young runt pachyrhinosaurus named Patchi (voiced by Justin Long). We first meet Patchi when he’s struggling to join in on eating his mom’s vomit with his brothers and sisters. In the next scene, a larger dinosaur shits on him. Are you starting to get the picture?

Eventually Patchi finds himself in a bit of a rivalry with his more dominant brother Scowler (Skyler Stone). He also falls in love with fellow pachyrhinosaurus Juniper (Tiya Sircar). It’s a humdrum and lifeless plot, with occasional pit stops into scatological humor. One marvels at the thinking that assumes young kids, the same ones who can spend hours talking about and playing with dinosaurs, would need a bunch of dumb, gross gags and boilerplate dramatics in order to pay attention to freaking dinosaurs. But sometimes I wonder if it isn’t the adults — as in, the filmmakers and executives — who are trying to keep themselves interested by adding wisecracking crows and whatnot to these stories.

It’s frustrating, because the CG animation in the film is quite excellent, with its vast herds of photorealistic creatures migrating across strikingly beautiful real-life landscapes. (“It’s a future oil field, so don’t get too attached,” cracks the parrot at the sight of one of these gorgeous lakes, in what must be the film’s sole halfway decent line.) The quality of the imagery actually adds to the incongruence of the voices and the plot. Not just because one seems to have been done with care and the other with slapdash abandon, but also because the dialogue doesn’t quite sound right coming out of these creatures. Cartoonish beasties are one thing, but these guys are “realistic” (to the extent that animated dinosaurs can in any way be realistic), and it’s hard to look at their beaklike mouths and hear human sounds like, say, Justin Long’s voice coming out of them. It adds an extra layer of amateurishness to the proceedings.

Still, there’s enough technical competence to the imagery itself that it might be possible to enjoy Walking With Dinosaurs if you waited for it to come out on DVD, cut out the framing device, and turned the sound off. But here’s a better idea: Just go get the original BBC Walking With Dinosaurs instead.

Photo: Twentieth Century Fox