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Walking with Dinosaurs: The 3D Movie review: where is an extinction-level event when you need one?

Walking with Dinosaurs The 3D Movie red light

Sub-vaudeville 1950s sitcom humor and a horrifically dated message about boys as heroes and girls as the heroes’ property. You know, for kids!
I’m “biast” (pro): love dinosaurs

I’m “biast” (con): tired of movies that think they can get away with being idiotic because they’re “for kids”

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

I shall very slightly paraphrase the famed chaotician Ian Malcolm — who has had some experience with the terrible lizards — to explain Walking with Dinosaurs: The 3D Movie:

Now this is one big pile of shit.

It shouldn’t be. Screenwriter John Collee has written good, smart stuff for kids — Happy Feet — and adults: Creation and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. Codirector Barry Cook also codirected Arthur Christmas, which is sheer joy, and his directing partner Neil Nightingale has produced a ton of beautiful nature documentaries the likes of which the original BBC TV Walking with Dinosaurs was paying homage to.

So how did this happen? This big-screen Dinosaurs is like a prehistoric nature documentary in which the noble narration by Patrick Stewart or whoever, explaining the migratory patterns of a herd of plant-eating pachyrhinosauruses, has been replaced by cutesy Disney-esque characters telling us a story hoarier than even dinosaurs themselves. (ETA: This isn’t a Disney film; it’s from Fox.) Meet Patchi (the voice of Justin Long: Movie 43, For a Good Time, Call…), the runt of the litter, who has a distinctive hole in his frill thanks to a near-death encounter with a predator when he was a baby, but even though he’s weird and tiny, he’ll be someone someday. Meet Juniper (the voice of Tiya Sircar: The Internship, 17 Again), the cute girl pachyrhinosaurus who likes Patchi, and Patchi likes her too! Meet Scowler (the voice of Skylar Stone: The Rules of Attraction), Patchi’s big mean dumb older brother, whom Patchi will have to fight for leadership of the herd, and for sexual access to Juniper.

Oh yes. This is a cutesy Disney-esque kiddie flick that has no problem demonstrating to the viewing audience that boys are leaders and heroes, and girls are the property of the boy leaders and heroes. The educational cards that pop up to share with us the proper scientific names of all the dinosaurs we meet (many other kinds make supporting appearances) do not include one that uses the term “sexual access,” but when Juniper goes off with Scowler as he (temporarily) wins leadership of the herd, we’re meant to share in Patchi’s heartbreak; Juniper doesn’t even seem sorry. I’d love to be a fly on the wall when some big-eyed little moppet says, lip quivering, to Mom or Dad, “But I thought Juniper was Patchi’s girlfriend?” I wonder what little girls will make of this. While their brothers get to identify with Patchi’s quest to prove his courage and his strength, what lesson will little girls take?

Then again, absent this romantic triangle, we’d never have had the privilege of snorting derisively over what is the most unfortunate line of dialogue this year, perhaps ever, for a kids’ film, Patchi’s joyful “She likes me and she likes my hole!”

(Remember what I wrote in my post about the movie’s trailer? “Will there be a girl dinosaur who is impressed with his derring-do and walks off into the Cretaceous sunset with him? I will bet you a million billion zillion dollars that there is.” I would have won that bet.)

But the sub-vaudeville 1950s sitcom humor — which also includes multiple poop and vomit jokes and such yucks as “You kicked his butt all the way up to the Stone Age!” — would not be complete without a “hilarious” “ethnic” character. Poor John Leguizamo (The Counsellor, Kick-Ass 2) as the voice of Patchi’s “bird” pal Alex; he must be exhausted from doing this tired spicy-Latino thing; he must be humiliated every time he’s asked to do it again.

And as if the film is trying to preserve the illusion that this is a respectable nature documentary, none of the animals’ mouths move when they’re talking — we hear their voices through some sort of dinosaur telepathy. Talking animals is bad enough; talking animals with disembodied voices is downright disconcerting.

Are there pretty prehistoric landscapes here? Sure. But Walking with Dinosaurs: The 3D Movie makes The Croods look sophisticated. I wouldn’t have thought that was possible.

US/Canada release date: Dec 20 2013 | UK release date: Dec 19 2013

Flick Filosopher Real Rating: rated KIWC: kill it with a comet
MPAA: rated PG for creature action and peril, and mild rude humor
BBFC: rated U (contains mild threat and violence)

viewed in 3D
viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes
  • RogerBW

    The animal behaviour patterns may well be accurate. But when the film attributes them to sapient beings, which anyone who’s thinking in words probably is… that’s my breaking point.

  • Jim Mann

    Walking with Dinosaurs WAS as prehistoric nature documentary, narrated by Kenneth Branagh (or, in the version broadcast in the US, Avery Brooks). It was brilliant, and was indeed done as if it were a David Attenborough documentary. It was so successful that it spawned subsequent specials about prehistoric mammals and about pre-dinosaur animals.

    I’m appalled by what Disney has done. Do they think that kids wouldn’t like a “straight” dinosaur documentary?

  • Max C.

    It’s worse than Disney. It’s Fox. Hell, it could’ve been The Weinstein Company and that wouldn’t have made any difference. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pq5z55IdMVo Real shame, because I wanted to see something different, now I’m not going to see it at all.

  • althea

    “Talking animals is bad enough; talking animals with disembodied voices is downright disconcerting.” I am already disconcerted just reading about this. So it’s basically just a comic voice-over YouTube clip? I was impressed up to now, not to mention what Jim Mann has to say. Count me way out.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Can’t blame this one on Disney. This is what the BBC has wrought: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1762399/companycredits?ref_=tt_dt_co

  • dinonerd69

    The film was delivered earlier in the year as an almost silent movie. Limited narrative and only foley. Fox wanted something that appealed more to kids so they edited much of the violence and brought in Tim Hill to add the “funny” dialog. The result an insult to anyone over the age of 6.

  • http://www.flickfilosopher.com/ MaryAnn Johanson

    Exactly.

  • http://www.flickfilosopher.com/ MaryAnn Johanson

    Walking with Dinosaurs WAS as prehistoric nature documentary

    Well, yes, except they couldn’t film dinosaurs in the wild. They had to create CGI visuals of animal behaviors and appearances that we can only make educated guesses at.

    I’m appalled by what Disney has done.

    As Max notes, it’s not Disney. Sorry if that was unclear. I’ll make a small modification to the review.

  • http://www.flickfilosopher.com/ MaryAnn Johanson

    So it’s basically just a comic voice-over YouTube clip?

    Oh my goodness. Yes. Yes, that’s it exactly.

  • http://www.flickfilosopher.com/ MaryAnn Johanson

    Do you have a source for this?

  • dinonerd69

    Not until the film releases ;)

  • MisterAntrobus

    At some point I think there was also a live “Walking with Dinosaurs” show, featuring some extraordinary puppets.

  • Danielm80

    I’m confused. Are you objecting to the anthropomorphism or to something more specific?

    This is not snark. I’m genuinely puzzled.

  • RogerBW

    I’m saying there were basically two ways this could have done that would have worked for me:
    (1) As a nature show, the way the original thing was. Narration, but no character voices. These are non-sapient animals. So animal behaviour (males fighting for mates and dominance) are just fine.
    (2) As a story about (to whatever extent) people, in which case we need some sign that they are actually people, i.e. their behaviour has to be comsistent with sapient minds rather than being instinct-driven.
    The combination of animal behaviour plus apparent sapience just doesn’t work for me.

  • http://www.flickfilosopher.com/ MaryAnn Johanson

    I saw that in NYC. It was awesome, if a little cheesy. But lifesize animatronic* dinosaurs? So cool.

    *Or autoerotic, as the Jurassic Park lawyer called it.

  • KevinKlawitter

    The trailers for this movie make it come across uncannily like the type of movie Tim Robbins’ character would have produced in “The Player”.

  • milquetoastintolerant

    The original cut of the film tested so poorly that Fox went into panic mode. They hired Tim Hill and a couple of writers to go What’s Up Tiger Lily? on it and write dialogue and narration to fit the already completed film. If you think the film is bad now, it was originally far worse.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Every time I saw a trailer for this, all I could think was, “Where the hell is Littlefoot?”

  • amanohyo

    Sometimes when I attend professional sporting events, I feel the same way. Usually around middle of the second half when the fans are drunk to the point of incoherence.

    The trailer for this film reminds me of Jean-Jacques Annaud’s nature movies (The Bear, Two Brothers). I was forced to watch them in school and felt the same way as you about the forced semi-anthromorphization.

    It would be interesting if the writers tried to “translate” what the animals were actually thinking into English (like with dog from Up). It might have to be R Rated in this case, what with all the dreams of dino-coitus. Wait a sec… lizards and snakes have two penises, did dinosaurs have two? Hmm… is it wise to google “fossilized dinosaur penis impression” at work? I must be brave… for science!

  • Karl Morton IV

    Rather, it was like the original BBC show as opposed to a hilarious CGI dino-romp aimed at little kids. They wanted one of those.

  • Jean Shallot

    The voices sound terrible in the preview, and the lips in no manner sync with what is being said. And if “I think I just stepped in some fear” (by the apparently non-actor female child voice talent they hired) is preview worthy comedy dialog, then the film is gonna be garbage. My take is they had a bunch of dinosaur footage and they thought they could get away with just sticking stupid voices on it and dumb Americans would bite. Or maybe they got some cheap Indian (as in from India) CG animators and said “have fun” and then added the stupid voices. They key is the voices are stupid, the writing is stupid and they think you all are a bunch of “rubes”.

  • No Thanks

    That sounds about right to me. They think we are all stupid rubes and will spend our money on total garbage.

  • Hollywood Sucks Bad

    Tell me this, who was screaming for another dinosaur movie, period? Answer: nobody. But Hollywood is so incestuous that they’d rather produce a turd like this than give an outsider a chance to get their script looked at.

  • Clytus I’m Bored

    It should have stayed on TV. Why a theatrical version? There are too many other dinosaur movies that are good.

  • Or pick a name

    I saw this movie on Saturday but I, along with others walked out about halfway through. The visuals were spectacular but the story was predictable and the dialogue was cringe worthy. Even the kids in the theater probably laughed once or twice while I wad there. The movie had great promise but turned out absolutely awful.

  • John Bracy

    You know what has me worried? This is the same production company that’s working on the Honor Harrington movie.

  • RogerBW

    I don’t think that has any chance of being any good anyway. All the fans can really hope for is that it’s not Wing Commander.

  • Jonathan Roth

    Patton Oswalt on punch-up for animated films.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XK9decuuPC0

  • anonymous

    I worked on the movie for over a year. It was a silent movie, with very very limited narration
    directed by Barry Cook. The movie wasn’t exceptional, slightly boring perhaps But it had some soul and dignity. The movie was fully finished. Fox requested massive changes. In no single way that movie was as bad as it turned out after a complete new cut from a different director and the added dialogs disgrace. When I eventually saw the final result, almost a year later, I felt offended and robbed of my time spent hard working.

  • dinonerd69

    BAZINGA!!!

    Whats sad to me is they can’t just let the art speak for itself and let educated human beings (and kids!) make up their own minds. Unfortunately in Hollywood these days, there’s so much money at stake in the production of such movies that the mere inkling of a possible failure sends the studios running for the safety of a sure-fire “make-your-money-back” option.
    The original Walking with Dinosaurs TV series was a huge gamble that paid off for the BBC. It’s sad the powers that be didn’t have the same faith in the movie…..

    Hey, I gots an idea! Make a “mix tape” of cool dino roars and download them to your mp3 player then go watch the movie and listen to that instead….. presto! LOLZ.

  • dgs

    “he must be exhausted from doing this tired spicy-Latino thing; he must be humiliated every time he’s asked to do it again.”

    Oh yeah, I’m sure he’s extremely exhausted/humiliated, all the way to the bank that is. Good lord how out of touch are you? Millions of parents don’t even have the money any longer to buy their child/children a small holiday present (I’m pretty sure the Leguizamo household won’t have ANY worries about presents being under their Christmas tree this year!), and you think this second rate, hack of an actor/comedian is upset he gets paid outrageous sums of money for performing to ethnic stereotypes??? Yeah, I’m sure his arm is way twisted behind his back every time he signs his multimillion dollar contracts to perform said ethnic stereotype.

    This just confirms what I have always known, and that is, most people involved in the entertainment industry are way out of touch with the real world, and the real struggles of the working man/woman (have to make sure I specify “woman,” instead of the general “man” to mean all of humankind, lest you think I’m being gender biased or some such nonsense).

  • Bluejay

    It’s possible to be happy with the amount of money you’re making, but not completely happy with the way you’re making it. Unless you’re suggesting that money equals happiness, and nothing else matters.

  • bronxbee

    “…most people involved in the entertainment industry are way out of touch with the real world, and the real struggles of the working man/woman…”

    i hate to break it to you, but “most” people in the entertainment industry are not even as well-paid as Leguizamo and are struggling every day just to keep their noses above the water line… the highly paid, high profile, very visible (or heard) actors, writers, artists are the tiny tiny tip of the iceberg of creative people… who don’t only do it for the money (but a bit of money couldn’t hurt) …

  • http://www.flickfilosopher.com/ MaryAnn Johanson

    Are you suggesting that I am out of touch with the real world and the real struggles of working people?

    Cuz I live in the real word, and I work my ass off, and I’m struggling. Drowning, in fact.

    Perhaps you are out of touch with the real world of creative people, if you think it’s that easy to decide to sell your soul in order to maintain a career in a bigoted industry.

  • dgs

    “Are you suggesting that I am out of touch with the real world and the real struggles of working people?”

    Based on the comment I quoted, yes I am suggesting you are out of touch with the real struggles of working people. Most people now a days need to work two or three jobs to make ends meet (that includes me!), and work WELL over 40 hours a week at that. No life, little sleep, constant stress and worry over money and the lack of it, and you feel bad for an actor who quite willingly plays up his ethnicity and earn millions in the process??

    Sorry, you will get NO sympathy from me when it comes to the wealthy in the entertainment industry who had to sell their poor little souls (which by the way, NO ONE forced them to do) in order to earn many millions of dollars, working extremely cushy jobs. Maybe you should visit any of the over crowded homeless shelters, or tent cities that have popped up all across America, filled with families living in poverty, despair, and misery, if you want something REAL to feel sympathetic about.

  • Matt Clayton

    That’s a shame it turned out the way it did. You can tell it was dubbed over the mostly silent footage, rather than re-animate the dinosaurs’ mouths. And Leguizamo’s narration is cringe-worthy.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Well, the important thing is that you feel smugly self-satisfied in you lack of sympathy.

  • TheGodThatFailed

    Oh please, stifle yourself. You claim to have no life and to be worried constantly about your finances, but you have no trouble whatsoever getting internet access to post on here twice in one day, high-hatting us all the while, as though your poverty were something to be proud of. Wanna save 50 bucks a month? Cut off your internet and do us both a favor.

    And where are these dozens of tent cites all across America? You talk like I should expect the Joads to emerge from behind a tent-flap at any moment.

    And I love that your argument is essentially, “because some people are homeless, no one who isn’t homeless is allowed to ever complain about anything or say that anything in their life is a problem.” How absurd.

  • dinonerd69

    The sad thing is we’ll never know how the movie would have performed had it not been turned into a (little) kids flick. With 700 million people having watched the documentary series and many more watching the stage show I would have thought it was a safe bet. I wonder if anybody at Fox is regretting this decision? More likely they’ll say the movie would have performed even worse had they not modified it. Funny, I see lots and lots of critics saying it would have been better without the dialog but not a single one saying the dialog saved the movie. You can bet that instead of heads rolling at Fox, someone is getting a pat on the back and a promotion so they can continue to screw up decent movies. Makes me sick to my stomach.

  • dgs

    Yes, I work very hard for everything I have, including Internet access. Nor did I ever say I was poor, far from it. I work very hard and I’m paid very well for it (not as well as Mr. Leguizamo I’m sure, but I’m comfortable). Even though I’m not poor, I can feel real empathy/sympathy for the plight of the poor in this country, as I have personally known families destroyed by this economy, and have gotten to know many others by volunteering at soup kitchens when I can.

    Since most people are at most, two to three paychecks away from being homeless, maybe when you lose your job and run out of unemployment you’ll learn about the tent cities I speak of, personally. Or maybe a homeless shelter will be more your style, if there’s room (most around the country are way overcrowded, but you probably wouldn’t know that either, would you). From the sound of your smug, self-important post, I think a good dose of homelessness would do you good.

    Lastly, not only has God failed you, but the ability to think logically has as well. I made no such argument. My point was (a point that has apparently soared over everyone’s head here), it’s misdirected sympathy to feel bad for a multimillion dollar actor who has made a great deal of that money by playing up his ethnicity. No one twisted his arm, or any of the wealthy in the entertainment industry to get to where they are, they did it of their free will and have enjoyed great riches in return.

    Good bye, I don’t have the time or energy to continue this discussion with a bunch of nameless, faceless strangers on the Internet. My comment was to the writer of this review only. I was reading over reviews to determine if this would be a good movie for my five year old daughter, and this particular review just struck me as odd, with the feminist ranting. The sympathy comment for the multimillion dollar net worth Latin actor, who has made many of his millions by willfully playing up his ethnicity quickly made me forget about the feminist ranting however.

  • Bluejay

    Ooh, a diva exit! I like those. And with a jab at feminism, no less.

    Have fun feeling morally superior to nameless, faceless strangers, Nameless, Faceless Stranger. And Happy Holidays.

  • RobertP

    Is there any such thing as getting your money back or a voucher for a ticket to see a different movie if you decide the one you’re watching sucks? I got a refund once but it was years back.

  • http://www.flickfilosopher.com/ MaryAnn Johanson

    It probably depends on the theater and the mood of the manager on duty. But you’d probably have to walk out shortly after the movie starts — the more of the movie you watch, the less sympathetic a multiplex manager is going to be.

  • http://www.flickfilosopher.com/ MaryAnn Johanson

    My sympathy is not zero-sum. Feeling bad for what an actor has to do to earn a living does not diminish my horror at all the awful shit happening in the US and around to world.

  • Alan Fidler

    Its such a shame because visually the movie is pretty stunning albeit a bit tame. Dinosaurs were blood and guts animals living difficult lives in tough environments and that is what the movie should have conveyed. It would have been a winner but instead we have a movie that has no idea what it is supposed to be. Whomever is responsible for the mess we ended up with, specifically the terrible talking nonsense, hang your hollow head/s in shame!

  • David

    Better yet, just sneak into a better movie.

  • http://www.flickfilosopher.com/ MaryAnn Johanson

    When you do that, the better movie doesn’t get the vote of your ticket purchase.

  • David

    That’s true. You can just make sure that you sneak into a movie that you knew you weren’t going to see in the theaters anyway.

  • http://www.flickfilosopher.com/ MaryAnn Johanson

    Then don’t see it in the theater.

  • David

    I’m going to assume that you have moral qualms with seeing movies in the theater that you didn’t pay for. Would that extend to situations in which you’re refusing to give money to certain films. Like, for example, if you’re boycotting major summer releases for the lack of female and nonwhite representation. People could buy tickets to see a female led movie and then walk into the latest superhero movie.

  • Bluejay

    Or you could buy tickets to a female-led movie and then go ahead and see that female-led movie.

  • Danielm80

    I can’t tell if you’re serious or just trolling us. Either way, your proposal sounds roughly equivalent to saying, “I think Playboy is immoral, so I’m going to steal it from the bookstore.”