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CG effects do battle in 3-D ‘Dinosaurs’

Published: Monday, Dec. 23, 2013 5:17 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Photo provided)
A Pachyrhinosaurus named Patchi (left) appears with his older brother, Scowler, in "Walking With Dinosaurs."

Dinosaurs rule the earth in this big-budget 3D feature update of the late ’90s TV show.

A supersized riff on the acclaimed BBC series of the same name, “Walking With Dinosaurs” takes rewarding advantage of a much bigger budget and state-of-the-art technology to bring its impressive collection of Cretaceous creatures to vivid life.

But while the walking part’s pretty impressive, the talking part – not so much.

Apparently convinced the film’s young target audience wouldn’t be sufficiently engaged by those remarkably lifelike main characters and a colorful prehistoric parrot (voiced by John Leguizamo) serving as narrator, the powers that be saw fit to add needless dialogue.

Given that the dinosaurs’ mouths don’t move while the voice cast delivers some truly throwaway lines, it’s safe to assume the overlay was added after the fact, especially considering the evident care and detail that went into the other renderings.

While the end result often finds those visual and audio elements butting heads with each other, the heavily marketed Twentieth Century Fox release still should unearth some impressive holiday numbers.

The six-part series that inspired the movie (not to mention a successful live arena spectacular) originally aired on the BBC in 1999 and was ultimately seen by 700 million viewers globally.

Recruited to exploit the brand for theatrical consumption were co-directors Barry Cook (“Mulan”) and Neil Nightingale, creative director of BBC Earth, whose different sensibilities would seem ideal for a movie that tries to graft the series’ documentary style onto a more traditional animated feature format.

Bookended by very brief modern-day, live-action sequences, the proceedings waste little time in going back about 70 million years to tell the coming-of-age story of Patchi (voiced by Justin Long), an underdog of a young Pachyrhinosaurus who’s shown the ropes by the flighty Alex (Leguizamo).

Along his trek to adulthood, Patchi crosses paths with various prehistoric predators, including the fearsome Gorgosauraus, as well as locking horns with his older brother and the eventual leader of the herd, Scowler (Skyler Stone), and experiencing love at first sight courtesy of the fetching Juniper (Tiya Sircar).

Although the plotting, credited to screenwriter John Collee (“Happy Feet,” “Master and Commander”), follows a safely predictable course, the visual element, employing the cutting-edge 3D Fusion Camera System used by James Cameron for “Avatar,” delivers the strikingly dimensional dino goods set against actual backdrops in Alaska and New Zealand.

It’s that forced, unnecessary and largely unfunny dialogue – save for Leguizamo’s spirited way with words – that comes up distractingly flat.

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