Branded after the hugely successful six-part BBC documentary series which aired back in the late 1990s, Walking with Dinosaurs – The Movie (2013) is a live action/CGI hybrid from co-directors Neil Nightingale and Barry Cook, and is released this week on DVD and Blu-ray. It’s without doubt technically impressive, featuring some of the most visually lifelike dinosaurs since Jurassic Park (1993). And yet it’s botched spectacularly by a paper-thin script and some laughably silly voiceover work from actors as Justin Long and John Leguizamo (of Ice Age fame). We follow the story of the adorably named Patchi (Long), born at the end of the Cretaceous period as the runt of a Pachyrhinosaurus litter.
Patchi is young and feeble, unlike his meaner older brother Scowler (voiced by Skyler Stone), who’s also the apple of their father’s eye. However, when Patchi crosses paths with Juniper (Tiya Sircar), a female from another herd, he discovers renewed purpose and embarks upon his first migration naively, unknowing of the dangerous challenges he’ll have to face in order to ensure his survival. Narrated by an Alexornis called Alex (Leguizamo) and bookended by two scenes featuring Ricky (Charlie Rowe) accompanying his enthusiastic palaeontologist uncle (Karl Urban) to an excavation sight, Walking with Dinosaurs is a daft, 90-minute long docudrama about an anthropomorphic young dinosaur overcoming his fear of the world. By now, you should already know whether this is the dino movie for you.
At its worst, however, this is both a run-of-the-mill nature doc and even a patronising put-down to its target market of little ones looking for an awe-inspiring tale of adventure. The spectacle of the film comes purely from the visuals which, considering how irritating the voiceover and timid story become after little more than five minutes, is a triumph in itself. Cook, Nightingale and their animator have clearly put a lot of time and effort into realising the film’s scaly stars, and there’s a true sense of amazement when the camera and narrative focuses on them and nothing else: for example, a scene illustrating how meticulous Gorgosaurs are about hunting their prey is tense and spectacular to watch unfold.
Unfortunately, there’s almost no time allowed whatsoever to truly bask in the sheer wonderment the animation department have put on screen without Patchi making – whether intentional or not – a crude remark about the distinctive hole in his frill. It’s a shame, as had the voiceover been left out like initially planned in favour of more educational narration, Walking with Dinosaurs – The Movie could have been a decently made and informative documentary about our planet’s long-departed terrible lizards. As it is, however, Cook and Nightingale’s kiddie flick is an uneasy, innocuous and easily avoidable anomaly.