How do you screw up a perfectly good idea? Well, if you’re Walking with Dinosaurs, originally a well meaning BBC-produced CG animation attempting to show what life would be like millions of years ago (remember, man and his prehistoric lizard pals never shared the planet at the same time), you let Hollywood slap on a little Ice Age style juvenilia on it. That’s right, after meticulously recreating the look and environment of our incredibly distant past, Tinseltown steps in and adds poop jokes on top of your art. Proving once again that anything can be dumbed down for the sake of a turnstile spin, the masterminds behind this mess will argue that they are finding a way to make the educational aspects acceptable to the wee ones in the audience. So instead of asking them to think, the filmmakers have imposed kindergarten level dialogue over it all, even if the cartoon critters’ mouths don’t move.
That’s right, we’re talking a post-production decision on a prestige product, reminiscent of Harvey Weinstein’s never-ending desire to edit art house hits so that they will “play in Peoria.” While the original British mini-series was a monster hit (and its roadshow live presentation equally popular), we in the great unwashed colonies apparently need our 80 minutes of quality time with the brood spelled out in the broadest terms possible — in this case, via a parrot (voiced by John Leguizamo) who narrates the tale of a Pachyrhinosaurus named… Patchi (Justin Long)… who is trying to understand his future as the possible leader of his tribe during the beasts’ annual migration south. Along the way he meets and falls for a female named Juniper (Tiya Sircar) while battling for herd supremacy with his antagonistic older brother Scowler (Skyler Stone). Insert mandatory Paleozoic eye candy and you’ve got yourself a movie.
Had it merely functioned as a Disney travelogue, had it simply showed us an hour and twenty minutes of impressive F/X in a silent but easy to understand story, Walking with Dinosaurs might have worked. Might have. The key here is in the visuals. The imagination and computing power used to render these realistic beasts makes the creatures from Jurassic Park look practically ancient. So what do directors Barry Cook and Neil Nightingale do with this level of ingenuity? Why, they spoon feed us facts and pronouncements all in service of live-action bookending material. It’s maddening what Walking with Dinosaurs does. It wants to be everything to everyone, when all it can be is a time-waster for moms and dads looking to sneak out for a little holiday shopping.
Of course, because it looks good and it cost millions to make it that way, you’ve got to pander, but Walking with Dinosaurs compromises so much that it feels phony. How else do you explain the instant desire to reduce everything down to a bathroom level of slapstick humor? In fact, the juxtaposition between such abject stupidity and gorgeous wilderness atmosphere is enough to cause aesthetic whiplash. It’s like taking a tour of the Grand Tetons with the cast of Family Guy making fart jokes the whole time. Sure, your kids will probably adore it, but once they make it into the real world of actual science, they may be a bit confused when their teacher explains that dino fathers usually didn’t defecate on their offspring.
Like most modern family fare, Walking with Dinosaurs determines the lowest possible point on the many entertainment denominators out there and then aims several inches below it. What it comes up with is the CG equivalent of Ritalin, capable of keeping your child agitation free for a little while as it equally lowers his or her IQ.