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Three years later, ‘Walking with Dinosaurs’ returns

The dinosaurs last walked the earth – that is, the Spokane Arena floor – back in the misty dawn of July 2007.

They sold out every performance. Now, the big lizards are shambling their way back to the scene of that triumph for a return eight-show engagement.

As extinct life-forms go, these dinosaurs sure have some theatrical staying power. Their 2007 appearance was only the second stop on their first North American tour and it’s still going, with attendance of more than 3 million in 97 different cities.

We talked with dinosaur puppeteer Michael Latini by phone and he said we can expect a show just as enthralling – and quite similar – to the first “walk” in Spokane.

The show will feature 10 large dinosaurs, including:

• A 56-foot long Brachiosaurus.

• An Ankylosaurus with a 38-foot wingspan.

• A 23-foot tall Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Latini said that each of these dinosaurs requires three operators: one driver, who sits in an unobtrusive, low-slung cart under the dinosaur, and two “voodoo puppeteers.”

The puppeteers sit in a booth and manipulate various controls, including one that is a roughly dinosaur-shaped model. One puppeteer controls the head and tail motions while the other controls the mouth, the eyes and the roaring noises.

The driver maneuvers this handcrafted mountain of foam, fabric and hydraulic cables over the Arena floor.

Latini said the operators can improvise to some extent, but most of the movements are choreographed. You don’t want two 1.6-ton dinosaurs crashing into each other and breaking their microprocessors.

Meanwhile, the show also includes five “suit dinosaurs,” which are pretty much what they sound like – people inside of dinosaur suits. Those are necessarily smaller, averaging about 7 or 8 feet tall.

All of the dinosaurs roam freely on the Arena floor. Actually, they roam on a special floor which is specially built for “Walking With Dinosaurs” and transported from venue to venue.

The floor allows for many of the stunning special effects which make it look like the dinosaurs are moving through primeval forests and swamps. Other effects are achieved through video and lighting.

And the story?

Well, it doesn’t actually have a plot in the usual sense. The “story” is really the scientific story of dinosaurs themselves – their development, their modes of survival and their eventual extinction. The producers bill the show as 163 million years of dinosaur history.

It was created as a live version of a well-loved BBC television series, with education as the ultimate goal. The show runs 96 minutes, including an intermission, and it is suitable for kids age 3 and up.

There are some loud and possibly frightening events – earthquakes, volcanoes, comets hitting the earth – but the show’s producers say that “most children sit quietly in awe of the dinosaurs.”

And the audience is by no means restricted to kids and parents. Latini said plenty of dinosaur-loving adults show up without kids.

Apparently, you’re never too old to outgrow a good multimillion-year-old story.