Let’s just get this out of the way right now: Walking With Dinosaurs may have been based on the 1999 BBC documentary series of the same title, but otherwise the two Mesozoic media have little in common. The miniseries succeeded at exploring an era ending 65 million years ago as realistically as the Discovery Channel explores the lives of existing species; the film is so insultingly oversimplified towards what it believes would entertain its target audience that each and every time the scientific name of a dinosaur appears onscreen, one is shocked that they didn’t substitute “longneck” or “sharptooth” for “Apatosaurus” or “Tyrannosaurus.” Released only four years as Toy Story and the same year as Toy Story 2, the miniseries ambitiously utilized the novelty of CGI to heighten the believability; the film only utilizes (rather unimpressive) CGI because, in a time when even Disney has shut down their traditional animation department after the failure of their last animated feature The Princess in the Frog, CGI is simply “what kids’ movies are doing these days.”
As Pixar animator Brad Bird stated, “If you talk down to a kid or aim specifically at a kid, most kids aren’t [going to] like it…because most kids can feel when you are being patronizing.” Unfortunately, Walking With Dinosaurs employs nearly every cliché of mediocre children’s programming, never missing an opportunity for scatological humor to “enhance” its ridiculously formulaic and shabby plot. And what a plot! In the tradition of such apparent children’s animated classics as Osmosis Jones, Dinosaurs begins in the live action world of the present day with a young boy named Ricky (Charlie Rowe) whose parents are forcing him to attend an archaelogical dig with them. A spoiled brat, Ricky complains that he doesn’t “want to dig up dead things.” Then a Spanish-accented bird named Alex (voiced by John Leguizamo) tells the boy that his ancestors (at least the BBC assumed that kids know birds evolved from dinosaurs, right?) were more interesting than he thinks, finding it necessary to add that Ricky’s own Australopithecine ancestors were “pretty ugly!” In a hasty matter of seconds, Alex transforms from a parrot into an Archaeopteryx while turning Ricky into a dinosaur and transports the two of them into the dinosaur kingdom.
In all honesty, the three story arcs which follow the world’s worst exposition might actually not be so unspeakably abysmal had they been void of dialogue. Though the film’s distributor BBC Earth American believes American children would only enjoy dinosaurs if they were constantly saying things like “This [dinosaur] is huge, which means I should probably steer clear of its butt” and “You kicked his butt all the way to the Stone Age,” most parents would disapprove of such rude language, only further alienating the target audience in the film’s expectations. I have seen my fair share of children’s dinosaur films, from The Land Before Time and every sequel up to the point where even the filmmakers, clearly a far cry from Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Don Bluth, lost count of their hour-long direct-to-video creations, to the grammatically incorrect cult classic We’re Back: A Dinosaur’s Story (Barney is a dinosaur in name only, or DINO, and therefore exempt), and none of them are as degrading to the human mind, regardless of the age, as Walking With Dinosaurs.