Walking With Dinosaurs: The 3D Movie shows us mighty beasts of all shapes and sizes, be they massive, puny, armoured or long-legged. But there are also dinos of the feathered variety – as can be seen in the form of a toothy Alexornis bird named Alex.
Pint-sized but plucky, Alex is the prehistoric pal of hero dinosaur Patchi (a Pachyrhinosaurus, voiced by Justin Long). He's brought to life via the distinctive tones of actor and comedian John Leguizamo, famous for his roles in Moulin Rouge!, Romeo and Juliet and as the voice of fast-talking Sid the Sloth in the blockbusting Ice Age series.
What Alex lacks in size, he makes up for in importance. Not only does he narrate the film. He is also a feathered precursor to the parrot, acting as a fascinating link between the Late Cretaceous Period in which the film is set and the world we live in today.
This connection played into Leguizamo's vocal interpretation of the character. "I adopted a Spanish accent for Alex because most parrots come from Latin American countries,” he says. "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.”
Alex's friendship with Pachyrhinosaurus Patchi has a practical grounding – in reality, the Alexornis birds would have eaten the insects that feasted on their blood. "Patchi's basically a four-legged buffet for Alex," says Leguizamo.
The inclusion of a dinosaur such as Alex highlights the film's commitment to accuracy, explains palaeontologist Dr. Steve Brusatte. "They read a lot about the latest discoveries," says Steve of the filmmakers. "They used so much of this information that we've learned over the past few decades, about feathered dinosaurs, about how dinosaurs lived in big herds, which dinosaurs preyed on each other, their environments, and used that to tell the story."
Yet while the story has been thoroughly researched, it's also a buddy movie between two dinos of completely different shapes and sizes. "Kids will love Walking With Dinosaurs because it feels so real, has lots of humor and fun," says Leguizamo. "Plus, they’ll love the camaraderie between Patchi and Alex.”
Walking With Dinosaurs: The 3D Movie is released on 20 December.