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'Walking With Dinosaurs': Scenery's the star

When we first meet Patchi, the hero of the animated family adventure Walking With Dinosaurs, he's just a baby.

When we first meet Patchi, the hero of the animated family adventure

Walking With Dinosaurs

, he's just a baby.

The Pachyrhinosaurus ("thick-nosed lizard") hatchling, who is voiced in a most cutesy manner by Justin Long, is the runt of the litter. But boy, oh boy, is he up for it. An ambitious lad, he's ready to take on the world - that'd be planet Earth 70 million years ago.

Based in part on the wildly successful 1999 BBC-TV documentary mini-series of the same name, Walking With Dinosaurs is a visually breathtaking work of computer animation that follows the lives of Patchi, his family, and friends as they negotiate the harsh realities of life in the Late Cretaceous period. (It will be shown at area theaters both in 3-D and 2-D versions.)

They live, laugh, and love - and occasionally run into the film's villains, the rapacious Gorgosauruses, predators that stretch 30 feet from snout to tail and weigh more than three tons. (Patchi's peeps, the Pachyrhinosauruses, are gentle herbivores.)

Patchi's coming-of-age tale is narrated by a friendly Alexornis bird voiced by John Leguizamo in the manner of the late, great Mexican actor Ricardo Montalbán.

In a highly effective move, directors Barry Cook and Neil Nightingale shot the film in a mix of live action and computer-generated animation: While the dinos are digital, their setting is real.

Before creating the animated creatures, filmmakers shot extended footage at locations in Alaska and New Zealand, which still retain a look appropriate to the prehistoric setting.

It's an incredible sight: Most animated films have the action unfold in front of a lifeless backdrop; Walking features perfectly molded, digital dinos (created in consultation with a half-dozen paleontologists) romping and stomping about real earth, trees, rocks, streams, and mountains.

But Walking fails miserably when it comes to storytelling and dialogue.

According to several reports, filmmakers did not intend to include dialogue or narration in Walking, preferring to rely on the animation and music to relay its story. Sadly, they bowed to pressure, adding voices to anthropomorphize the creatures and make them more appealing to kids. Fortunately, they did not go too far: The creatures don't speak à la Mickey Mouse - their lips don't move, they don't frown, smile, and cry.

Walking With Dinosaurs is too good a visual treat to miss, especially if you catch the 3-D version. But don't expect to enjoy the predictable, paper-thin story.

Walking With Dinosaurs **1/2 (out of four stars)

Directed by Barry Cook and Neil Nightingale. With John Leguizamo, Justin Long, Tiya Sircar, Skyler Stone. Distributed by 20th Century Fox. Released in 3-D and 2-D versions.

Running time: 1 hour, 27 mins.

Parent's guide: PG (some intense creature action, mild rude humor)

Playing at: area theaters