Every problem with Walking With Dinosaurs 3D could be solved by simply firing every single person who wasn’t an animator and turning it into a silent film. It’s a great looking family film that maybe would have worked better as one of those large format, less than an hour long educational films, but as a narrative about one young dinosaur trying to come into his own it’s an agonizing and excruciating assault on the eardrums from a horrid voice cast delivering some of the most pandering and ill fitting pap possible. If for some reason your kid loves dinosaurs and you have to be dragged to see this, do so kicking and screaming and then only with top of the line earplugs or noise cancelling headphones.
Young, playful, and mischievous Pachyrhinosaurus Patchi (voiced by Justin Long) is forced to grow up on his own alongside his tougher, alpha male older brother Scowler (Skyler Stone) after they are separated from their herd in a fire and ensuing predator attack during their migration south for the winter. Patchi attempts to develop a relationship with a female Pachyrhinosuarus from another herd (Tiya Sircar), but once again harsh Cretaceous Era living and his brother’s hard headedness (as opposed to Patchi who has a hole in his noggin) get in the way.
From a really terribly handled opening and closing live action wrap around story about a paleontologist (Karl Urban, trying gamely to keep a smile on his face) trying to reconnect with his petulant and no longer interested in dinosaurs teenage son (a stereotypically sullen Charlie Rowe), Barry Cook and Neil Nightingale’s film reeks of the kind of compromise and despair that accompanies the worst of botched projects. It’s painfully obvious that at one point deep into production this wrap around probably didn’t exist and that the actual animated segments were devoid of any dialogue. How can you tell? Probably because the mouths of the dinosaurs don’t move and their inner monologues have all the subtlety of actors trying to dub foreign made 1950s B-movies or 1970s kung fu films. It would work just fine without the dialogue since the actions aren’t that hard to understand. Early on, there are also wildly out of place moments where the action will stop and a young child will announce every species on screen with a title card. It would make sense if the whole movie were that level of an educational film, but even that gets dropped after 30 minutes in favour of an obvious story made even more obvious.
Words can’t even describe the awfulness of this dialogue, and translated into any language it would still be God awful. I guess there’s no way that the cast could have made it better, but somehow they find ways to make it even worse by sounding nothing like what their characters look like and being as annoying and unfunny as possible. Long does the bare minimum and offers up no charisma or sympathy as the lead. But even unwelcome than Long in the way that a megaton bomb obliterating an entire city is worse than stubbing your toe is John Leguizamo, who puts in the absolute worst work of his career as the film’s narrator, a babbling bird named Alex. The bird is a pest and a nuisance, constantly explaining to the audience in agonizingly unfunny detail everything that happens, constantly breaking the fourth wall and cracking tired jokes that would drive Henny Youngman’s rotting corpse crazy. It’s a performance that makes his work in The Pest seem positively subdued.
I hate being mean towards any film, let alone one that’s clearly aimed at trying to educate children on even as slight a level as this one is attempting, but this one deserves it. Maybe the only pity that I feel towards it is that I don’t think it’s entirely the fault of the filmmakers that this ended up so horrible. Someone just didn’t have faith that a largely educational and reportedly $80 million version of something Disney tried and failed to do themselves with Dinosaur was a dicey proposition. They might have been right. It’s a well meaning film that no one should have bothered with in the first place.