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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

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by Patrick Stewart or whoever, explaining the migratory patterns of a herd of plant-eating pachyrhinosauruses, has been replaced by cutesy Disney-esque characters telling us a story hoarier than even dinosaurs themselves.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.

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Walking with Dinosaurs: The 3D Movie (2103)
US/Can release: Dec 20 2013
UK/Ire release: 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

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