For those who can't tell a Gorgosaurus from a pterosaur, the 3-D, mostly animated adventure "Walking With Dinosaurs" (Fox) is out to set you straight.
While undeniably educational on the subject of the world's most famously extinct group of creatures, however, co-directors Barry Cook and Neil Nightingale's film is only modestly entertaining.
This fictional, big-screen successor to the 1999 BBC television documentary of the same name tells the story of an underdog Pachyrhinosaurus—literally, "thick-nosed lizard"—named Patchi (voice of Justin Long).
With the encouragement of his best friend, Alex (voice of John Leguizamo) -- a colorful prehistoric bird who narrates Patchi's tale, and that of his true love Juniper (voice of Tiya Sircar), plucky Patchi overcomes a variety of obstacles to acquire determination, loyalty and courage as his herd migrates back and forth across what is now Alaska.
The barriers standing in Patchi's path include a childhood disfigurement that draws the negative attention of some of his peers as well as the bullying ways of his domineering brother Scowler (voice of Skyler Stone).
Framing Patchi's saga are brief live-action segments that introduce us to avid archaeologist Zack (Karl Urban) and his teen nephew, Ricky (Charlie Rowe). Having outgrown his youthful enthusiasm for dinos, Ricky is bored by Zack's ongoing work with them. At least, that is, until Alex arrives on the scene to wow him with Patchi's eventful biography.
Overall, there isn't much to object to in all this, even if the special effects on display far outstrip the shopworn against-the-odds plot. Some potentially frightening situations might overwhelm the youngest moviegoers, while parents will likely sigh with resignation at the predictable smattering of mild gross-out jokes.
Along the same lines, grown-ups may also wonder why the word "butt" occurs so frequently in the dialogue, and why one character resorts to the vulgar expression "bite me." Of course, in the context of two animals talking to each other, kids may innocently interpret that as a challenge from the stronger to the weaker to do something he lacks the moxie to attempt. Adults will have to hope so.
More troubling is the fact that screenwriter John Collee's script includes the idea that whichever male becomes the leader of the pack automatically commands the companionship of its females, including, to Patchi's temporary sorrow when Scowler takes over at one point, Juniper's. However factual this may be, it seems a confusing concept to present to children, especially if they are misled by the anthropomorphized setting to imagine that it applies, to any extent, in the human realm.
The film contains some childish scatological humor and a single double entendre. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I—general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG—parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.
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