Dinosaur memories

On the red carpet with the stars of Walking With Dinosaurs.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Walking With Dinosaurs and the forces behind Tim Hill, Justin Long, John Leguizamo, Skyler Stone.
Walking With Dinosaurs and the forces behind Tim Hill, Justin Long, John Leguizamo, Skyler Stone. Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Sunday morning, invited by Twentieth Century Fox films to the red carpet at Cinema 1, 2, 3, on Manhattan's Upper East Side, I walked with dinosaur lovers big and small to celebrate the premiere screening of Walking With Dinosaurs (directed by Barry Cook and Neil Nightingale with Tim Hill as Executive Producer). Three longtime dinosaur aficionados, John Leguizamo, Justin Long and Skyler Stone, who give their voices to the photorealistic prehistoric 3-D adventurers, told me about their very first dino-encounters.

Produced by BBC Earth, the animated feature using the latest technology takes us back 70 million years. We follow the fate of Patchi, a Pachyrhinosaurus with a whistling hole in his ear and a great deal of courage, voiced by Justin Long, as his herd migrates through what is now Alaska. Together with his older brother Scowler (Skyler Stone) and love interest Juniper (Tiya Sircar) he encounters many dangers and predators on his way. Alex, the Alexornis bird, voiced by John Leguizamo, is our playful voice-over narrator, guide, living in symbiosis with Patchi and flying over the audience.

John Leguizamo doesn't remember his first memory of dinosaurs: "the most important one was when I was six."
John Leguizamo doesn't remember his first memory of dinosaurs: "the most important one was when I was six." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Anne-Katrin Titze: First question: are you wearing a dinosaur skin coat?

John Leguizamo: Yeah, I'm wearing T-Rex. How did you know? You're talking about the short arms?

AKT: The arms are not too short [unlike the arms of the Gorgosaurus in the film].

JL: Crocodilosaurus. [with a big smile]

AKT: Okay. Very nice choice. What is the first memory you have of noticing dinosaurs?

JL: I don't remember the first , but the most important one was when I was six. I can't remember the name, it was a gas station [Sinclair} and their symbol was a giant brontosaurus. If you filled your tank a certain amount of times and you filled up the stamp book, you would get a blowup giant brontosaurus.

AKT: So you'd speed it up?

Sinclair gas station for John Leguizamo: "you would get a blowup giant brontosaurus."
Sinclair gas station for John Leguizamo: "you would get a blowup giant brontosaurus."

JL: Yes, so I made my parents… I begged my parents to fill up the tank and use up the cash and eventually they got it for me. I couldn't believe it, then I got too close to the radiator and it blew up and all I had was a green bit of plastic I would sleep with.

AKT: And now you are coming back to it?

JL: Yeah, I got my niche.

Skyler Stone, who voices big brother Scowler to Justin Long's little Patchi, comes by for a chat.

Anne-Katrin Titze: What about dinosaurs first attracted you when you were little?

Skyler Stone: When I was little, it was really cool, there was a book that I used to have at school that when you opened it up, had two chapters dedicated to dinosaurs, I remember. That's what I would always get caught to be reading - even when we did something on the other pages. I would always… they'd be saying "Skyler, what are you doing?" and I'd be on the dinosaur pages, I'm sorry. "But we're doing the Civil War!" "The Civil War is boring. I don't want to read about people killing people. I want to read about these raptors."

Anne-Katrin Titze with Skyler Stone on a book he loved, which: "had two chapters dedicated to dinosaurs."
Anne-Katrin Titze with Skyler Stone on a book he loved, which: "had two chapters dedicated to dinosaurs." Photo: Ed Bahlman

AKT: I'm sorry to inform you that we are doing the Civil War today. This is all fake, this is not really a film premiere.

SS: I didn't know that! So this is my karma. It comes back now? Like some evil break show. A 15 year break show that you guys have been [plotting]. That's a long time right there. I really am impressed. I thought this was a movie.

AKT: How did you get involved in Walking With Dinosaurs?

SS: I saw the show back in the day on BBC. I watched the show and I never imagined it becoming a movie. But they figured out a great way to do it. This thing has been in motion long before I came on. I only boarded this project in August 2013. They had worked on the animation for years. I feel like one tiny little speck of dust in a huge, huge machine. I feel very lucky to be part of it. John Leguizamo, Justin Long, BBC, that's not bad to have on the resume. I am very excited.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Walking With Dinosaurs is a classic adventure told with the use of the newest technology in filmmaking. How do you see the storytelling?

Justin Long: "Oh, man! I was obsessed with dinosaurs when I was a kid."
Justin Long: "Oh, man! I was obsessed with dinosaurs when I was a kid." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Justin Long: This guy I play [Patchi] is a little runt, he's an underdog overcoming the odds.

AKT: Speaking of little runts and coming of age, what's your first dinosaur memory?

JL: Oh, man! I was obsessed with dinosaurs when I was a kid. I used to love reading every book I could find about dinosaurs. I was ravenous about them.

AKT: Do you know why?

JL: I don't know what it is. I was always really into reptiles. They obviously are our modern dinosaurs, I guess. I was always really into crocodiles and turtles and snakes so it was most logical. And the fact that they were really larger than life, I mean, they were monsters. You know, every kid is kind of fascinated by monsters and they were living monsters. The fact that they existed and I've always been into history and science. I don't know it was just thrilling.

AKT: So this film is a little bit of a childhood dream come true?

JL: One hundred percent. Oh yes. There were moments when I kind of got swept up just in the animation because you got to watch the animation over and over again to record it. And I regressed back to being a kid. I can't wait to see it now, actually. I am sure my inner kid will chirp.

Executive producer Tim Hill Walking With Dinosaurs
Executive producer Tim Hill Walking With Dinosaurs Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

He called the film "a coming of age story" in which his character "finds inner strength".

JL: It's a very kind of classic story but told in a different, very realistic animated way. It was easier and liberating to not see the mouth moving. So we got to kind of make up [dialogue]. There was plenty of stuff written but we got to play with what was there. It's sort of like that movie What's Up Tiger Lilly that Woody Allen did.

He goes on to talk about his collaboration with Tim Hill.

JL: Tim and I have a real great shorthand. He is one of the funniest guys I worked with. We worked together years ago on Alvin And The Chipmunks. We get along well, our senses of humours are very in line.

Walking With Dinosaurs reserved
Walking With Dinosaurs reserved Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Justin notices me wrinkling my brow.

JL: Senses of humours? No, senses of humour!

AKT: Right. No plural for humours.

JL: The plural would be the senses.

AKT: Yes.

Walking With Dinosaurs opens in the UK on December 19 and in the US on December 20.

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