Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

School's out, so don't tell kids 3D dino tale is educational

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The BBC series Walking With Dinosaurs gets a kid-friendly big-screen treatment, complete with cutesy story and poop jokes, in Walking With Dinosaurs 3D. Aimed squarely at that dino-crazy demographic (7-12), it pumps a few IQ points into a genre sorely in need of them.

Walking takes care to ID each new species introduced, including factoids about what they ate and any special skills they might have had. It's downright educational. Just don't tell your kids.

Combining striking cinematography of Alaska with state-of-the art dinosaur animation, Walking is another Great Migration tale -- herbivores heading south at the onset of winter, hounded by all manner of carnivores and omnivores. But thankfully, it's not just another Land Before Time.

A feeble modern-day framing device packs teenage Ricky (Charlie Rowe) and his sister Jade (Angourie Rice) off to visit their paleontologist uncle (Karl Urban) in Alaska. Jade's down with digging for dinosaurs; Ricky would rather play with his phone.

Then, a raven voiced by John Leguizamo gets the boy's attention and tells him the tale of the bird's ancestor, an Alexornis, a bird from the Cretaceous period. "Alex" is friends with a Pachyrhinosaurus, "Patchi" (Justin Long). We follow baby Patchi out of the nest, through a few near-death experiences and into adulthood as he migrates south with his herd, tries to stick to his bigger, tougher brother Scowler (Skylar Stone) and catch the eye of the fetching Juniper (Tiya Sircar).

They endure attacks by T-Rex-like Troodons and flying Pterosaurs, injuries and the threat of a forest fire.

Leguizamo, veteran of the Ice Age movies, cracks a few jokes along the trek -- "If you want to know where the food is, follow the fat guys."

Alex is a wiseacre of a narrator, rolling the film backward to deflate any claims of heroism Patchi makes.

Of course, there are dino-doo-doo jokes and sibling-rivalry zingers. But the biggest laughs are sight gags of the sort you might catch in a good nature film -- simple behaviour, simply observed.

Co-director Barry Cook came from animation (Mulan), and partnered with BBC nature film vet Neil Nightingale (he produced Meerkats: The Movie). And while the tale they tell (the Happy Feet scribe wrote it) has dull patches that may try an adult's patience, the animation is astonishingly real and the approach is just smart enough to keep your interest.

Computer-assisted animation has moved forward by leaps and bounds since Jurassic Park, and dinosaur research is able to paint a more complete picture of how they looked, which had feathers, how they sounded and how they might have behaved.

The story they package all this in might be too childish for anybody over 12, but the research behind it and effort to pass that knowledge on to young dinosaur fans make Walking With Dinosaurs 3D as at home in the classroom as it is in theatres. But again, let's keep that between us.

-- McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 20, 2013 D4

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