Let dinosaurs, as New Yorker doomsayer Elizabeth Kolbert recently noted, stand for a child’s first scientific notion: the extinction of a species. Or, as any geek who grew up to be a parent (like me) will firmly contend, let them stand for the idea of wondrous possibility: If such things existed, maybe they can again. What I do know is that either of these approaches to making a movie about prehistoric monsters would please kids and the rest of us, much more than this pandering, goo-goo baby attempt at humanizing something that is extremely distinctive from us.
So what they have children? And so what they fall in love at mating time just like we do? That doesn’t mean we should give them little inane voices that spout catchphrases and clichés from this generation’s hack cartoon writers’ worn-out box of poop and fart jokes. Every dinosaur movie for kids ever made — from The Land Before Time to Disney’s terrifically bad Dinosaurs — has fallen into this same anthropomorphizing trap. If you need a human perspective, it would be far better to magically introduce a human back in time than to transform lumbering, elegant creatures into models of pop-culture humanity. But how do we go back in time? We call that moviemaking, folks.
The Walking with Dinosaurs film feels like it was originally meant to be educational, but then got a voice-over slapped on it, adding insult to the inanity of the project. The gold standard for dinos in kids movies is still the prehistory portion of Disney’s Fantasia, set to the music of Stravinsky. There we were frightened, awed, and enrapt by magnificent creatures on the edge of the void. It was more than a cautionary tale; it was beautiful. This kind of shameless trivialization makes the whole of the infinite past seem like a joke. Even Godzilla movies get the glory and the terror better than something as halfhearted and dumbed-up as this.