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updated: 12/19/2013 6:13 AM

Superb visuals trump thoughtfulness in 'Dinosaurs'

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  • Patchi (voiced by Justin Long) and his friend Alex the prehistoric bird (voiced by John Leguizamo) hang together in "Walking With Dinosaurs."

      Patchi (voiced by Justin Long) and his friend Alex the prehistoric bird (voiced by John Leguizamo) hang together in "Walking With Dinosaurs."

  • Video: Walking With Dinosaurs trailer

 
 

The superbly rendered and realistically animated characters in 20th Century Fox's live-action/animated "Walking With Dinosaurs" apparently communicate telepathically.

They talk to each other, but their mouths never move. They barely move even when they growl or roar.

This strikes me as remarkably cheap and old-school, inasmuch as 1995's excellent Australian production "Babe" perfected the art and craft of synchronizing words with (live-action) animal mouth movements.

I realize scientists can't prove dinosaurs didn't communicate telepathically, but I suspect the filmmakers' decision to go telepathic stems more from financial concerns than artistic or scientific ones.

In foreign markets, it would be more expensive to synchronize mouth movements to each different language.

By ignoring mouth movements, filmmakers can just slap a new foreign language on the soundtrack and go to market, lowering costs to improve the bottom line.

But that's only part of the problem with "Walking With Dinosaurs," based on a popular, worldwide BBC television series. The dialogue would still be embarrassingly overwritten and the humor highly sophomoric, even if the animated characters lip-synced it all perfectly.

The screenplay is heavy on excrement and flatulence jokes. (Did you know a single diplodocus flatulation could produce enough gas to fill a hot-air balloon? This scientific fact is included in the movie's press notes, but not the movie itself.)

"Walking With Dinosaurs," co-directed by Barry Cook and Neil Nightingale, begins with an ultimately superfluous live-action family outing before magically transporting us to Alaska 70 million years ago in the Late Cretaceous Period.

There, a prehistoric bird named Alex (voiced by John Leguizamo) narrates the story of little Patchi (Justin Long), a puny pachyrhinosaurus, sort of like a triceratops without the menacing tusks.

He's a lovable little guy who gets a big hole chewed into his large right ear flap. This not only makes Patchi instantly identifiable, it gives Alex a place to perch for frequent bird-to-dino chats.

The story whisks us through Patchi's life as the son of the herd's powerful leader, Bulldust. He has an older brother, Scowler (Skyler Stone) a driven, self-centered dinosaur who can't wait to be king.

Patchi also has a love interest, the lovely pachyrhinosaurus Juniper (Tiya Sircar), who grows up with Patchi, only to be claimed by Scowler when he assumes command of the herd.

"It's not the end of the world!" Alex screeches to Patchi. "That won't happen for two more years!"

Weirdly enough, rottentomatoes.com classifies "Walking With Dinosaurs" as a documentary. A documentary?

True, the movie clumsily attempts to teach kids about paleontology by flashing dinosaur facts up on the screen. But "Sesame Street" is shrewder about teaching kids than this movie, which, by the way, doesn't even stick to its own timeline rules.

Alex calls the adult Patchi "lionhearted" and describes carnivorous dinos as "man-eaters." Scientists estimate humans to be about 100,000 years old, lions 700,000 years old. So Alex would be commenting on creatures that won't be around for another 69 million-plus years.

Then again, demanding historical consistency from a movie about telepathic dinosaurs might be unrealistic.

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