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MOVIE REVIEW

‘Walking With Dinosaurs’ is more of a slog

Patchi (left) is voiced by Justin Long. His brother is voiced by  Skyler Stone.

20th Century Fox

Patchi (left) is voiced by Justin Long. His brother is voiced by Skyler Stone.

BBC documentarians hit on a smart, engaging idea when they took the filmmaking technology that “Jurassic Park” had made user-friendly and applied it to a nature series, 1999’s “Walking With Dinosaurs.” They subsequently franchised the concept with, among other things, an elaborate touring animatronics show that made some local arena stops. Then came word that we’d be seeing “Walking With Dinosaurs” the 3-D narrative feature — welcome enough news, even if it sounded slightly at odds with that carefully cultivated identity as an educational “Jurassic” alternative.

Then the poop-joke ads began rolling out, with a talking dino informing kids, “I think I just stepped in some ‘fear!’ ” Still, maybe the captivating, majestic elements would be the rule, and the weak, dopey stuff would amount to just a few lines.

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Sadly, no. However well-intentioned the movie may be, it spills over with flat cutesy humor, making a slog out of an experience that should be filled with wonder. Following a quick live-action intro (Karl Urban cameos as an Alaskan paleontologist), John Leguizamo starts the prattling as Alex, a Cretaceous cross of eagle and rooster here to tell junior contrarians, in a broad Latino accent, why dinosaurs are cool. He recounts the story of his pal Patchi (Justin Long), a runty pachyrhinosaurus (part of the triceratops family) destined for big things. Young Patchi takes us on the migration trail, clumsily pursues Juniper (Tiya Sircar) as his mate, and clashes with his alpha male brother (Skyler Stone). And they banter and crack not-so-wise through all of it, rather than letting the story’s exotic sights and sounds do the talking.

There are moments when the vivid rendering doesn’t go to waste: the image, say, of a massive Edmontosaurus herd, with their peculiar duck bills and camel humps, lumbering along a beach. And there are a couple of genuine laughs, including a tale-of-the-tape segment on T-rex cousin gorgosaurus in which Leguizamo — in a too-fleeting bit of Sid the Sloth tactlessness — can’t stop snickering about those “baby hands.” But as for the “Hustle & Flow” reference Leguizamo tosses us — oof. You wonder how much he and Long might be improvising here, and how much they’re working straight from the material given to them by the filmmakers, whose backgrounds range from the nature genre to “Arthur Christmas” and “Master and Commander.” Either way, a less-is-more approach would have been helpful — for the interplay, and maybe for the “Dinosaurs” franchise as a whole.

Tom Russo can be reached at trusso2222@gmail.com.
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