The BBC series “Walking with Dinosaurs” gets a kid-friendly big-screen treatment, complete with cutesy story and dino-poop jokes, in “Walking with Dinosaurs.” Aimed squarely at that dino-crazy demographic (7 to 12), it pumps a few IQ points into a kid film genre sorely in need of them.
“Walking” takes care to ID each new dinosaur species introduced, including factoids about what they ate and any special skills they might have had. It’s downright educational. Just don’t tell your kids that.
Combining striking cinematography of some of the last great remote places on Earth (Alaska) with state-of-the art dinosaur animation, “Walking” is another “Great Migration” tale — herbivores heading south at the onset of Alaskan winter, hounded by all manner of carnivores and omnivores. But thankfully, it’s not just another “Land Before Time.”
A feeble modern-day framing device packs teenage Ricky (Charlie Rowe) and his tweenage sister Jade (Angourie Rice) off to visit their paleontologist uncle (Karl Urban) in Alaska. Jade’s down with digging for dinosaurs. But Ricky figures he already knows plenty about dinosaurs already and would rather play with his phone.
Then, a raven voiced by John Leguizamo gets the boy’s attention and tells him the tale of the bird’s ancestor, an Alexornis, a bird from the Cretaceous period. “Alex” is friends with a Pachyrhinosaurus, “Patchi,” voiced by Justin Long. We follow the baby Patchi out of the nest, through a few near-death experiences and into adulthood as he migrates south with his herd, tries to stick to his bigger, tougher brother Scowler (Skylar Stone) and catch the eye of the fetching Juniper (Tiya Sircar).
They endure attacks by T-Rex like Troodons, Gorgosauruses and flying Pterosaurs, injuries and the threat of a forest fire.
Leguizamo, veteran of the “Ice Age” movies, cracks a few jokes along the trek — “If you want to know where the food is, follow the fat guys.”
Alex is a wiseacre of a narrator, rolling the film backward to deflate any claims of heroism Patchi makes in this incident or that.
Of course, there are dino-doo jokes and sibling rivalry zingers. But the biggest laughs are sight gags of the sort you might catch in a good nature film — simple behavior, simply observed.
Co-director Barry Cook came from animation (“Mulan”) and partnered with BBC nature film vet Neil Nightingale (he produced “Meerkats: The Movie”). And while the tale they tell (the “Happy Feet” scribe wrote it) has dull patches that may try an adult’s patience, the animation is astonishingly real and the approach is just smart enough to keep your interest.
Computer-assisted animation has moved forward by leaps and bounds since “Jurassic Park” and Disney’s “Dinosaurs,” and dinosaur research is able to paint a more complete picture of how they looked, who had feathers, how they sounded and how they might have behaved.
The story they package all this in might be too childish for anybody older than 12, but the research behind it and effort to pass that knowledge on to young dinosaur fans make “Walking with Dinosaurs” as at home in the classroom as it is in theaters. But again, let’s keep that between us. No reason the kids need to know it might be good for them.