Walking with Dinosaurs - Live!: A Review of the Stadium Show
June 2009: Rochester, NY
By Debra Ross
When I first realized that Walking with Dinosaurs--the live stadium show--would be coming to our area, I figured that a blend of technology, natural history, art, and music would be right up our alley. Kick in the fact that my girls are as fascinated with dinosaurs as most kids are, and I expected that the Blue Cross Arena would have a real winner on its hands with Walking With Dinosaurs Live.
I was right. The Blue Cross Arena drew quite a crowd for a Wednesday night. The dinosaurs are breathtaking life-sized masterpieces that represent the perfect intersection of artistry and physics, dance and robotics, puppetry and programming. I was totally taken in, as were my kids. We went with three elementary-aged girls, an elementary-aged boy, a college-aged boy, and a teenaged girl, and all were thoroughly engaged in the show.
Was it scary? I've had dozens of questions emailed to me this week asking whether Walking with Dinosaurs is scary, and for opinions on the appropriate age range. In my opinion, if your children are old enough to understand what it means that dinosaurs lived long ago, they wouldn't be at all nervous about whether the dinosaurs might attack people; the fact that there is a human paleontologist down in the arena explaining everything makes this clear to everyone. The dinosaurs don't lunge at anyone. The nightmare factor is pretty low.
The one instance of a dinosaur eating another dinosaur happens at the very beginning of the show; one of the large dinosaurs snatches a recently-hatched baby dinosaur right from its egg. (And that was that for the 4-year-old girl sitting in front of us; she begged to be taken out after she saw that.) But that's it; there is no gore, no actual violence. There is plenty of tension, which is heightened by appropriate music that is often quite lovely, but you can reassure your kids that the mommy brachiosaurus is going to chase off the allosaurus, that the older male ornithocheirus fighting with the younger male will just back down. (Besides, I told my 8-year-old, think about it: No way are the people who created these expensive, breathtaking, living models going to slash them open just for the sake of adding a little excitement.) Act 2 opens with some utahraptors nibbling at the carcass of an already-dead dinosaur, and you can see some guts, but really, I've just told you it all. The Dinosaurs Alive large-screen movie playing at Strasenburgh Planetarium is far scarier in places, because dinosaurs actually fight and kill each other in the film.
As I said, the kids loved Walking with Dinosaurs. Here are my grownup criticisms, things the kids didn't notice at all except for the first one.
Criticism 1: Walking with Dinosaurs was too short. In fact, it was too short by a margin. The two acts are only 40 minutes long each. There is an intermission, but we were out of the Blue Cross Arena by 8:30 for a show that started at 7. In contrast, Ringling Bros. circus is 2 1/2 hours long--which seemed a bit too long to me--and had lower ticket prices. This was a pricey show.
Criticism 2: Actor Lucus Worth played the paleontologist, Huxley, who narrates the action. (I am told he is one of two actors who plays Huxley during the show's run.) Mr. Worth was full! of excitement! because dinosaurs are exciting! they're really exciting! Seriously! But to a seasoned adult who is used to watching David Attenborough's nature videos with her kids, this is definitely a young actor "playing" a paleontologist, rather than an expert communicating a lot of information combined with a love of science and discovery. Someone more like Attenborough could deliver the same script with a bit more authenticity. Which brings me to...
Criticism 3: The script. The script is actually quite good in terms of appropriate-amount-of-information-per-unit-time (though the Dinosaurs Alive! movie packs in even more). But you couldn't say it's cleverly written. I kept rewriting parts of it in my mind, but then again, writing is my job. And, the script uses the phrase "begs the question" in exactly the wrong way...they use it to mean "demands that we ask the question" rather than to mean the logical fallacy of smuggling one's conclusion into one's premise. (WWD producers: Take note! This would be easy to change!) Unsophisticated writing in a public performance always drives me a little nuts, when it would be so easy not to do this (again, the geek factor).
Walking with Dinosaurs is most appropriate for kids aged 6-12. They'll remember the show--and the information they've learned--for a long time, so you definitely feel like a Good Parent for bringing them. Home schoolers like us can count this as a science/natural history lesson for our quarterly reports, especially if it's followed up with a trip to see Dinosaurs Alive at the Planetarium at the Rochester Museum & Science Center.
Kids younger than 6 will enjoy themselves if a) they like dinosaurs and b) they understand and accept that carnivores eat animals, even (and especially) tasty babies right out of the egg. If you're wondering whether to leave your teenagers home, only do so if they're usually cynical; otherwise, they'll enjoy themselves, too.
If you're going to the show, it would definitely be worthwhile to prepare yourselves for which dinosaurs you'll be watching and learning about. The official Walking with Dinosaurs web site has a page called Meet the Dinos which (though it loaded on my screen awfully s-l-o-w-l-y) provides the perfect introduction to the different species that are presented in this show, and will heighten the value your child gets from the show when you attend.
©2009, Debra Ross