Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Walking with Dinosaurs 3D: Review

Over the past few weeks it seems like everyone with a love for dinosaurs who owns a computer has been broadcasting their thoughts on the new Walking with Dinosaurs movie that came out in theaters on December 20th, 2013.  Well, I finally got around to seeing it for ourselves.

They even said 70 million years like it actually was for this story and not the go-to 65 million years everyone throws around all the time!

So after reading what everyone else has been saying in their reviews the general consensus I gather is that the movie is visually outstanding, dinosaurs are scientifically accurate, but the dialogue was so horrible that it ruined the entire movie.  After hearing and reading all of this Gary and I walked in to that near empty theater with low expectations.  We liked it.  We didn't even mind the dialogue

The impression that I am getting from a lot of my peers (adults who are fans of paleontology or in the field of paleontology) is that they really wanted a movie that was just about dinosaurs.  No dialogue.  Just a made up nature documentary similar to the Walking with Dinosaurs miniseries from 1999.  This was supposedly the original plan for this new movie, but voice actors were added at the last minute.  Some have said that even kids (the target audience for this movie, lets just face it) would still have benefited and the dialogue did absolutely nothing but hurt the film. 

If you know about my bio, you know that I am a man of many hats.  One of my jobs that pays the bills hats is that of a teacher.  I see thousands of kids of all ages every year, and literally just teach them all about animals and nature in the education department of an AZA accredited zoo.  (It's awesome!)  After many years of doing this, I like to believe that I know a little bit about how they think, or at the very least how they learn.  I am going to write this review while wearing my teacher hat.  Where should we start?  How about with an introduction?

Freezing the Picture and Giving Introductions About Each Animal...

One of the reasons this movie is really interesting is because they chose to feature all prehistoric animals that typically are not seen in pop culture.  Instead of Tyrannosaurus we saw Gorgosaurus.  Instead of Triceratops we got Pachyrhinosaurus.  Instead of Pteranodon, Velociraptor, Stegosaurus, and Parasaurolophus, we were given Azdarchids, Troodon, Hesperonychus, Edmontonia and Edmontosaurus.  Some children who are really into dinosaurs may already know some of those names, perhaps even all of them.  I can guarantee you that a large percentage of them do not, however.  This movie actually froze and gave a little narrated introduction for each kind of animal when it first appears in the film.  While many folks (mostly my peers) found this irritating, one must remember this is essential from an educator's point of view.  If we take a step back and look at another, much older, classic children's dinosaur movie, The Land Before Time, none of the dinosaurs were ever referred to by their actual names.  Instead we heard cute little descriptions like "long neck" when referring to sauropods, or "sharp tooth" when referring to tyrannosaurs.  This avoided any awkward forced dialogue between characters and gave the story more flow.  There is a downside to this, however. TO THIS DAY...TWENTY FREAKING FIVE YEARS LATER I still witness people, mostly my generation, refer to dinosaurs by those names, not their actual genus.  It drives me insane.  It's not called a spiketail.  Its called a Stegosaurus.  Get it right.  I beg of you.  What they did with Walking with Dinosaurs 3D prevents this problem that just doesn't seem to die...ever.  Don't be surprised if you see younger kids throwing around names like Pachyrhinosaurus and Gorgosaurus as their favorites from now on.  So was freezing the picture and giving a short intro for each kind of animal in the film good?  Yes.  Maybe irritating for hard-core folks, but overall a good thing.

Silly Dinosaur Voice Over Dialogue...

The voice acting was deemed annoying by many.  To be fair the characters pretty much never shut up for one minute until the end of the movie.   The jokes were corny too.  Jokes about poop, jokes about romance, there was even a joke about booze at the end...the list goes on.  If you get a group of people of various ages together what you will find is some of the adults will not find any of those things funny at all.  The rest, comprising of almost all the kids and some of the adults, will.  Humor is one of the most powerful ways to mask education especially for kids.  One joke line in the movie was referring to the Edmontosaurus migrating.  The character said something like "If you want to find food, all you have to do is follow the fat guy".  This was actually Gary's ten-year-old son, Joey's favorite line because he thought it was hilarious.  Guess what though?  He also learned one of the reasons why animals migrate and he's never going to forget it!   If instead of corny jokes we just had a deep, dramatic voice narrating here and there, like a typical television documentary, I'd bet my teaching experience more than half of the facts shared in that film wouldn't have been retained by children (and even some adults) compared to if they were wrapped in a pretty little humor package.  Another joke made at the end eluded to having a tiki bar in the museum amongst the dinosaur displays.  Gary and I would like to know if we could please make those happen for real?  Thanks.  Oh and poop jokes...seriously, who doesn't think poop is funny?

Anyone who's seen this episode of Always Sunny in Philadelphia on FX knows just how funny poop jokes can be.  Last line of the episode was "Because poop is funny!"

Walking with Dinosaurs 3D is definitely not the first successful children's movie to feature talking dinosaurs, however.  The two ones I keep seeing being compared to it are the late 80s classic, The Land Before Time and the 2010 Japanese hit, You are Umasao.  I have heard multiple fanboys peers say these were better movies than Walking with Dinosaurs 3D.  How about we sit down and actually compare them free of bias, shall we?  I'm going to go over each one and give it a letter grade based on these following points...

Visual Accuracy: How do the dinosaurs themselves look compared to what we know about them?  How accurate is the environment?  This is ignoring beauty.  This is just looking at science. 

Education: What scientific information about dinosaurs and/or nature could someone learn from watching this film?

Take Home Message: What other value, whether it be social example or even just a good story, can be gained from watching this film?

Lets start with the most famous one (spoilers ahead)...

The Land Before Time

Let's face it, Cera was always kind of a bitch.

 The Land Before Time follows Littlefoot, a baby "long neck" (Brontosaurus Apatosaurus?  No, Camarasaurus...crap) and his friends, Cera, Ducky, Spike, and Petrie (baby Triceratops, Saurolophus, Stegosaurus, and Pteranodon) on a journey to find their families after being separated from them by an earthquake.  They encounter a gigantic Tyrannosaurus, named Sharptooth, who's only goal in life seems to be to chase five comparatively bug-sized baby dinosaurs for days after he kills littlefoot's mom because adult meat-eating dinosaurs in The Land Before Time don't kill for food, they kill because they are evil and they like it.  (They also don't find poop jokes funny, the bastards.)

Visual Accuracy- The dinosaurs in this movie, especially the babies, are stylized to exhibit human emotions but you can still easily tell what kind of animals they are just by looking at them.  The setting mixes dinosaurs from all different time period's, however.  The antics they pull off for entertainment's sake are also highly unrealistic.  C

Education- I stated above NOT ONCE is an actual genus name like Triceratops or Stegosaurus mentioned in this film.  That is my biggest problem with this movie.  You can sort of deduct the diets of the animals since you see all of the main characters eat plants at some point, except for the pterosaurs which are inaccurately portrayed as herbivores.  F

Take Home Message- This movie actually has a sweet story.  It shows that people of all shapes, sizes and colors can be friends (even if three-horns probably didn't actually play with long-necks!).  It also gives the message that you don't have to be big to make a difference and introduces the idea of nontraditional families such as adoption (Spike the Stegosaurus is taken in by Ducky's Saurolophus family) and grandparents as primary caretakers (Littlefoot the sauropod only has his grandparents by the end of the film).  A

You Are Umasou

Look at that widdle biddy tail club!

You are Umasau is about a Maiasaura who accidentally hatches a baby tyrannosaur, she named Heart, in her nest alongside her biological son, named Light.  Heart eventually realizes what he is and goes on his own in fear of accidentally eating his adopted mother and brother who loved him as if he were one of their own.  As an adult tyrannosaur, having lived a life as a predator, he runs into a newly hatched ankylosaur.  He calls him "umasou" which means "delicious" and intends to eat him when he realizes that the tiny dinosaur thinks Heart is his father and that he just named him Umasau.  Heart can't bring himself to kill the adorable little guy (seriously it's the cutest freaking ankylosaur ever) and raises him as his own adopted son.  All the while he has to figure out how to deal with his fellow tyrannosaurs who don't support his choice of getting attached to potential prey.  

Visual Accuracy- Although the style and animation of this film are beautiful, the dinosaurs are barely recognizable.  The tyrannosaurs have round pacman heads, the Maiasaura look almost humanoid in their posture, and then there are dinosaurs that appear as if the artists just pulled them out of their asses. (As if there weren't over 600 species of known Mesazoic dinosaurs to draw inspiration from.)  The movie mixes animals from different time periods and the tyrannosaurs know kung fu.  D

Education- The only good thing, education wise, I can pull from this movie is the fact that the predators are not all villains.  It addresses the fact that everybody needs to eat and unfortunately some can only survive by killing others.  The predators also don't just kill, kill, kill all the time for no reason.  On more than one instance it portrays Heart, or another tyrannosaur, make a kill, and respectfully leave the rest of the herbivores alone.  Unfortunately, like The Land Before Time, no actual dinosaur names are said.  C-

Take Home Message- If you thought The Land Before Time was a tear-jerker, this one will have you on the floor crying in the fetal position.   Like Land Before Time, it also teaches that loving families can come in all different forms.  It also doesn't have any real villains, just characters that do what they do because they feel they need to.  Even the most seemingly hardened people can surprise you in this story.  A+

Walking with Dinosaurs 3D

Walking with Dinosaurs 3D starts off in modern times following the worst actors in the world playing two kids and their paleontologist uncle.  There is a spooky telepathic bird that reminded me a little too much of the three-eyed raven from Game of Thrones which shows the angst-filled, too-cool teenager a view into the past.  Once we go back in time we follow a baby Pachyrhinosaurus, named Patchi, his crush, named Juniper, his douchy brother, named Scowler, and a sassy Alexornis as they grow up and struggle to survive against predators, seasonal climate change, and natural disasters.

Visual Accuracy- The dinosaurs themselves are probably the most scientifically accurate CGI renderings to date.  The movie also takes place in a specific setting, 70 million years ago in Alaska, and all the animals featured would have actually coexisted with each other in real life.  We can thank the awesome team of real scientists who were consulted every step of the way during this movie's production for all that.  Unfortunately the Gorgosaurus doesn't have feathers and the Edmontosaurus doesn't have a crest.  Not the movie's fault, however, since the scientific evidence for both of those ideas, ironically, was released during the movie's production when it was too late to make changes to the dinosaur models.  A

Education- This movie shows dinosaurs more or less behaving how scientists think they would have behaved.  There were also fun facts being stated throughout the duration of the film, via annoying little girl voice and silly voice over character dialogue.  Even though the predators in this movie are portrayed as the villains, they aren't unrealistically violent and behave like actual predators do, killing to eat, not killing to kill.  Like it or not you can't deny the fact that everyone walks out of the theater with at least one new bit of information stored away in his or her brain.  B+

Take Home Message- The story isn't as dramatic as the other two but it still has a message.  It supports brains over brawn (Patchi was the runt but he used his brain to get by.), the power of forgiveness (Patchi's brother was a douche...but was still his brother), and the importance of friendship and sticking together.  The film tells you to never give up and if you want something, go out and get it even if it means working hard.  This is even brought home in the lyrics of the end credits song by Matisyahu, called "Live Like a Warrior".  It's not original, but it works.  B

You may not agree exactly with my letter grades but was anything i wrote up there straight up incorrect?  Don't get me wrong.  The Land Before Time is one of my all time favorite animated movies.  I just watched You are Umasao a few weeks ago and I loved that one too.  I highly recommend them both to anyone.  Taking away nostalgia, however, are they necessarily better movies than Walking with Dinosaurs 3D?  Well...It really depends on what you want out of the experience.  A few things are for sure though; they all have talking dinosaurs, they were all made with kids in mind, and lots and lots of people like two of them but hate the third.  

Nostalgia is a powerful thing.  So powerful that it prevents us from empathizing with kids now because we are so wrapped up in our own childhoods.  We could sit around all day with our noses up in the air saying how the dialogue ruined the movie and how we think it would have been much better without it because we would want it that way because that's what we originally envisioned when we heard about a new Walking with Dinosaurs movie.  We.  What about the target audience, the kids?  Oh, and saying that the dialogue in this movie was so horrible to the point that it actually forces kids to just watch and not think or feel for themselves is just not giving them enough credit.  Trust me.  I say this with full confidence as someone who's profession is literally teaching children about this exact subject.  Kids have plenty of imagination, feelings, and free thoughts regardless of what you show them.  All the little future paleontologists are going to go straight home after that movie and immediately start having their own inspired adventures during playtime with their dinosaur toys, or if they are anything like I was, with markers and a piece of paper.  

We decided to do one thing in our review that I didn't see any other blog do with theirs.  We interviewed an actual child.  Gary's son, Joey, came along with us.  Here is what he said.  No, we didn't feed him any lines...except for the one at the very end for extra cuteness.  Just watch. 

Gary brought up a great point as we were leaving the theater.  Would anyone have enjoyed The Land Before Time if it didn't have any dialogue?  What if Littlefoot and his pals spent the whole movie grunting instead of calling each other "flatheads" and "scaredy eggs"?  Maybe "I think I just stepped in some fear!" and "She likes me, and my hole!" are this generation's versions of that?  Don't agree?  Well like I said earlier, nostalgia is a powerful thing. 

What are your thoughts on Walking with Dinosaurs 3D?  Does anyone have kids who saw the movie?  What did they think?  We'd love to hear!


  1. Why it took me so long to find this, I'll never know. Great review - and finally, some credit for the film.

    I wonder how you'll grade the dialogue free (Cretaceous cut)version though.

  2. Thanks Neil! Yes I'm interested in seeing the grunting version as well.