In 1999, six years after Steven Spielberg restored Tyrannosaurus Rex to the top of the food chain in Jurassic Park, the BBC unveiled its ground-breaking series, Walking With Dinosaurs.
Narrated by Kenneth Branagh, the programme employed state-of-the-art animatronics and computer-generated effects which captivated viewers and won numerous awards. It also claimed the dubious honour of the Most Expensive Television Documentary Series Per Minute.
Shot on location in Alaska, Walking With Dinosaurs – The 3D Movie is the next evolution, employing dazzling visuals to explore a familiar story of triumph against adversity in the Late Cretaceous period.
Screenwriter John Collee roasts a hoary narrative chestnut – the journey of a runt of the litter – for a simplistic script. It emphasises the educational aspects by repeatedly freeze-framing the action to provide us with the genus, English translation and feeding classification of each dinosaur.
Humour is pitched at younger audiences – the opening sequence is a feast of dino-poop – with occasional concessions to parents, like when the film’s hero stares dreamily at a picturesque landscape and gushes, “This is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen!”. “It’s a future oilfield, so don’t get too attached,” replies his feathered sidekick tartly.
A clumsy yet well-intentioned framing device introduces Bulldust, the leader of a herd of herbivorous pachyrhinosaurus, who must impose his authority on younger rivals while keeping an eye on his newly hatched brood including Scowler (voiced by Skyler Stone) and his weakling brother Patchi (Justin Long).
As the siblings grow up, Patchi learns to compensate for his small stature to overcome the obstacles that life throws at him and woo his sweetheart, Juniper (Tiya Sircar).
Wise-cracking best friend Alex (John Leguizamo) keeps a close eye on Patchi and together they face the merciless gorgosaurus, high-flying pterosaurs and the chicken-like Hesperonychus.
It’s all visually arresting edutainment that makes fleeting use of the eye-popping format.
Thus a pterosaur almost pokes our eye out with its beak and moths flutter inches from our face.
Vocal performances are solid, with Leguizamo stealing the best lines as the little bird who professes: “If you want to know where the food is, follow the fat guys”.
Scenes that might be a tad scary for the very young are preceded by a verbal warning from Alex, giving parents sufficient time to create a cuddle cage from the necessary bloodshed.