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WALKING WITH DINOSAURS

A Story And Hero 70 MIllion Years in the Making
WALKING WITH DINOSAURS presented a unique creative challenge to its filmmakers, who had to project themselves back in time - 70 million years - to what is now the U.S. state of Alaska, in the Late Cretaceous Period. Then, they had to imagine the myriad adventures a lovable young dinosaur might encounter on an odyssey unlike any other.

"WALKING WITH DINOSAURS is a story about a dinosaur's life and adventures, and we've gone to the ends of the world to film it!" says director Barry Cook, whose credits include the animated feature Mulan, co-directing the animated feature Arthur Christmas and working in a variety of key creative capacities on Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid and TRON. Now, with WALKING WITH DINOSAURS, Cook inhabits a world far away and long, long ago - and makes it come spectacularly alive.

Also taking on directing duties is Neil Nightingale, a filmmaker admired around the world for his ability to capture nature's wonders in ways you've never experienced. "Life's fundamentals have not really changed since the time of the dinosaurs," says Nightingale, who is Creative Director at BBC Earth, where he spearheads the development of new forms of commercial content.

"Thankfully, we don't face perilous pursuit by hungry gorgosaurs, but audiences can identify with Patchi's quest for survival. We meet him as a hatchling and watch him learn to navigate his environment and face the primary challenges of finding enough to eat, evading predators and rising above his rivals in order to win a mate. These are things we can all recognize and empathize with. Audiences will really get behind Patchi and root for this underdog hero to triumph."

WALKING WITH DINOSAURS points to our continuing fascination, if not obsession, with creatures that have been extinct for millions of years. The T. rex and the Gorgosaurus are among the most fearsome predators to have ever walked the Earth, but kids (of all ages) can't get enough of them. Dinosaurs spark our imaginations as much as any fictional creation does.

"Kids love dinosaurs, and they're going to love WALKING WITH DINOSAURS because it feels so real, has lots of humor and fun," says John Leguizamo, who voices Alex, a prehistoric parrot who is Patchi's best pal. "Plus, they'll love the camaraderie between Patchi and Alex."

Dinosaurs combine the best of two worlds: they're scary, but because dinos haven't been around for millions of years, they're non-threatening. Nightingale believes our enduring obsession with them is here to stay. "Dinosaurs are the most amazing creatures to have ever existed on our planet. In four and a half billion years of Earth's existence, there have been no creatures that are more dramatic or terrifying. Dinosaurs fascinate us because they represent a sort of safe danger. You can be scared of them but not too scared because they are long gone. They're not going to come out from under the bed or pounce on you in the dark! And it is not just dinosaurs we are talking about; it is The Age of Dinosaurs. It is amazing to know that the world we now live in, the skies above us and the stars we see were once their realm - incredible animals now lost to pre-history."

"In bringing WALKING WITH DINOSAURS to the big screen, we wanted to transport audiences back to a real world, to meet dinosaurs that truly existed and to immerse audiences in that world," Nightingale continues. "For a big motion picture experience it's also vital to have a strong and emotionally engaging story. So we used what we know about Late Cretaceous Alaskan dinosaurs as inspiration for a fictional, character-driven story we knew would entertain families."

Screenwriter John Collee's (Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World) tale introduces us to the movies' newest hero: Patchi. Ever curious, always brave and unfailingly optimistic, Patchi pretty much has us at "hello" - when we meet him as a hatchling, and then share his adventures as he grows to adulthood.

Patchi hails from a family and tribe of Pachyrhinosaurus (from the Greek for "thick-nosed lizard") dinosaurs. He is far from being the biggest or toughest guy in the herd, so he must use his wits and his heart to compete for food with his larger brothers and sisters, particularly Scowler, the alpha male of the group who has ambitions to succeed his father as leader of the herd.

"Patchi must survive an adventure that calls on him to use all of his inner strength, tenacity and courage to become a hero," elaborates director Barry Cook. "In a world that demands physical strength, Patchi's physiognomy makes him the quintessential long shot that everyone will root for."

The character's creators gave him important qualities that add up to far more than brute force. "Patchi has a unique personality trait in that he seems to have the capacity to 'see the big picture' and consider how his actions affect not only himself but those around him. He's also endearing through his curiosity and drive to never give up," Cook adds.

"Patchi is a diminutive outcast who faces all changes by believing in himself and trusting his inner courage," says Nightingale. "At its heart, WALKING WITH DINOSAURS is a classic coming of age tale. You have two rival brothers, a love story and an epic journey that presents a series of hurdles for Patchi to overcome."

Patchi's ability to think outside of the nest is evident even as a hatchling, when he wanders from his home to explore his surroundings. These early forays can have wildly unexpected consequences, like when Patchi is snatched by a hungry predator, which leaves him with his defining physical trait - a bite-hole in his frill.

According to actor Justin Long (Live Free or Die Hard), who voices the role, Patchi has "an insatiable curiosity, as many runts do. It does get him into trouble, but in the long run it helps him evolve and become the leader he was meant to be."

The puny Pachyrhinosaurus' intrepid spirit captures the attention of Alex, a prehistoric bird whose default traits are humor and ebullience. Alex is fascinated by Patchi and his adventures, and isn't shy about unexpectedly showing up on the scene and nudging Patchi in the right direction. "He's Patchi's friend, guide, conscience and mentor," says Long.

John Leguizamo, having voiced the role of the silly sloth Sid in the blockbuster Ice Age films, embraced the new challenges that came with finding a voice for Alex. "Alex is a kind of precursor to a parrot, so I adopted a Spanish accent for Alex because most parrots come from Latin American countries," he explains. "What was most difficult was finding the right pitch, because Alex is a small bird, but he's also the story's narrator. So he also had to sound paternal and patriarchal."

Like many strong friendships, Patchi's and Alex's is symbiotic. "The Pachyrhinosaurus herd attracts a lot of insects, which Alex regularly snacks on," says Long. Adds Leguizamo: "Patchi's basically a four-legged buffet for Alex."

Unlike Alex, Patchi's older brother Scowler is less than helpful in showing Patchi the path to survival and heroism. Big, strong and single-minded, Scowler will take on any challenge - or challenger - to lead the herd. He is usually OK with his younger bro, but Scowler's goals often lead to some intense sibling rivalry.

"Scowler teases Patchi, taunts him, and picks on him," says Justin Long. "It's classic sibling rivalry. Patchi's always trying to impress Scowler, but Scowler's not easily impressed."

Patchi's heart and fearlessness are more than enough to match Scowler's size and strength. But Patchi must summon a different kind of courage to approach a pretty (for a Pachyrhinosaurus, anyway) female named Juniper. Juniper shares Patchi's sense of adventure, as well as his bravery and resilience. When she's separated from both her family and the herd, Juniper develops a real connection with Patchi, even though she can't always show it.

If love is in the air then so is the continued presence of danger, mostly in the formidable form of a cunning and relentless Gorgosauraus named Gorgon. Always on the lookout for his next meal, Gorgon is like a turbo-charged T. rex, and uses precise tactics and strategies to track his prey. "Gorgon is the baddest of the bad," says Long. He's the Lucifer of the dinosaur world."

While the filmmakers hold special affection for their young hero, a few confess to a special appreciation for the film's villain. "I loved Gorgon; I could make an entire movie about this guy!" says Animation Director Marco Marenghi, whose credits include Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, Steven Spielberg's Minority Report and the box-office hit, I Am Legend.

Also playing a key role in Patchi's journeys is his father, Bulldust, the strong and respected leader of the Pachyrhinosaurus herd. While leading his family in the annual migration, Bulldust, along with Scowler and Patchi, are separated from the others in a forest fire. Trapped by a Gorgosaurus, Bulldust sacrifices himself to save his sons. Patchi's Mom also perishes in the fire.

Left alone after making it through the inferno, the two brothers must fend for themselves. Their ominous situation heightens their rivalry, and the tension continues to escalate as Patchi and Scowler grow into powerful young adult males.

The herd's migration leads the brothers and Juniper to their greatest battle, where Patchi summons his inner courage and strength to become the leader he was born to be.

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