Movie review: 'Walking With Dinosaurs' sidesteps lame jokes, thin plot

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The usual flow of things is you get your movie -- whether it be "Snow White" or "Peter Pan" or "Aladdin" -- before it moves on to Disney on Ice or some other arena spectacle that's all about buying souvenirs.

"Walking With Dinosaurs" goes against the current, beginning as a BBC documentary series in 1999 before being adapted for arena stages in 2007. The big screen is the latest stop for this franchise that offers a view of dinosaurs moving more realistically than your average Godzilla.

"Walking With Dinosaurs" is a bit like pushing the button on the interactive museum display and getting an 80-minute narrative comedy with Hollywood effects. In fact, as each new dino species appears, its name and eating habits are announced with a placard, giving this the slight whiff of an educational film.

Movie box code

'Walking With Dinosaurs'

Rating: PG for creature action and peril, and mild rude humor.

It's more than offset by the persistent goofball humor of John Leguizamo, who voiced the Sloth in the "Ice Age" movies and now stands in for this movie's narrator, a prehistoric parrot named Alex with an exaggerated Latino accent.

He is the friend and companion of our protagonist Patchi (Justin Long), safely the first pachyrhinosaurus to land a lead role in a big-screen adventure. These lumbering herbivores aren't exactly the lookers of the Cretaceous world and what's worse is that Patchi is no stud. He's the runt of the litter and when we meet him as a pup he's forced to settle for very sloppy seconds, as they get right to the poop and puke jokes. In short order, a near-death encounter with an aerial predator leaves him with an unattractive hole in his frill, making him even more of an outcast.

He longs for the affections of his kind pachy friend Juniper (Tiya Sircar), but, in a slight variation of "The Lion King" story, so does his more formidable brother Scowler (Skyler Stone), the heir apparent to his father's throne. The siblings are left to work out their issues when, during a southern migration through their native Alaska, Mom and Dad fall victim to a Gorgosaurus attack.

Gorgos, which rarely get top billing over their cousin T-Rex, are every bit as fierce and travel in packs. Scowler and Patchi are at odds not only on who will get the girl -- she apparently has no say in this -- but how they'll keep the herd from falling prey to the nasty blue Gorgos.

Coming from BBC Earth, with paleontology consultants in tow, the CGI "Walking With Dinosaurs" is as realistic as we've seen the creatures, except of course for the comic banter -- "You kicked his butt all the way up to the Stone Age! -- which is delivered without them actually moving their mouths. Good choice or not? Who knows.

Although it is fraught with peril, filmmakers Neil Nightingale and Barry Cook ("Mulan") held back on the "Jurassic Park"-sized jolts. They keep it light, and even in 3-D, "Walking With Dinosaurs" shouldn't overly frighten a kindergartner.

What may frighten them a little is the onslaught of cornball humor from Mr. Leguizamo and company, the thin, hackneyed plot and those intrusive attempts at a documentary style.

Scott Mervis:; 412-263-2576. Twitter: @scottmervis_pg.

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