The Valley of Gwangi

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Sometime near the turn of the 20th century, a beautiful cowgirl named T.J. Breckenridge (Gila Golan) hosts a rodeo that is struggling. Her former fiancé Tuck Kirby (James Franciscus), a heroic former stuntman working for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, wants to buy out T.J.

T.J. has an ace she hopes will boost attendance at her show – a tiny horse. Tuck meets a British paleontologist named Horace Bromley (Laurence Naismith), who was working in a nearby Mexican desert. Bromley shows Tuck fossilized horse tracks, which Tuck notices to be similar to T.J.’s horse’s feet. So Tuck sneaks Bromley in for a peek. Bromley declares the horse to be an Eohippus.

The tiny horse came from a place known as the Forbidden Valley. A Gypsy known as Tia Zorina claims that it has a curse, and demands that it must be returned. Later, a group of thieves (presumably under orders from the Gypsy) collaborate with Bromley to steal the horse and release it in the valley. Bromley collaborates in the hopes of following the horse to its home. But Carlos (Gustavo Rojo), once a member of the Gypsy tribe now working for T.J.’s circus (and the one who actually delivered the tiny horse to T.J.), walks in on the theft and tries to stop it, but is knocked out.

Tuck arrives just as the Gypsy posse leaves. He sees Carlos as he begins reviving, notices the horse is missing, and sets off after it and Bromley. When T.J. and her crew discover Carlos and that the horse is missing, Carlos claims Tuck has stolen it. T.J. then leads a group of cowboys after Tuck and Bromley to retrieve the horse.

Making their way into the Forbidden Valley, Tuck, T.J, and the rest of the group meet up and soon discover why the valley is said to be cursed as a Pteranodon swoops down and snatches a boy who had accompanied them. After Carlos kills the Pteranodon, they spot an Ornithomimus, a small dinosaur which they chase after in the hopes of capturing it. Just as the ornithomimus is about to escape, it is killed by Gwangi, a vicious Allosaurus which pursues the group, almost finding and eating Bromley. However, a Styracosaurus appears and drives Gwangi away.

Later, Gwangi pursues the people to their base camp, where it is able to get the best of them, until they begin to rope it down. Then, the Styracosaurus reappears and battles Gwangi. Gwangi emerges victorious, but decides to attack the men again.

Gwangi manages to catch and kill Carlos, but knocks itself out while trying to exit the valley in pursuit of the rest of the group. Securing the creature, they take it back to town where it is to be put on display in T.J.’s show. However, on opening night, one of the Gypsies sneaks in and begins to unlock Gwangi’s cage in an effort to free it. Instead the unfortunate man is killed and Gwangi breaks free, killing Bromley and a circus elephant (actually modelled after a prehistoric mammoth) in the process. The crowd stampedes away from the arena, trampling and killing Tia Zorina.

Eventually, Gwangi, Tuck, T.J and Lope (a Mexican boy) end up in a cathedral which catches on fire. After some close calls, Tuck and T.J. manage to escape and lock the door behind them, trapping Gwangi in the burning building, which crumbles around it. Screaming in agony, Gwangi dies in the fire and the town makes Tuck the town hero. However, the townspeople are also saddened by the thought of a magnificent creature like Gwangi dying such a horrible death and by the loss of life caused by its rampage.


Ever wonder why it is that Barney, the dinosaur is purple? This may very well be one of the reasons for that. The dinosaurs in the film are strangely purple. I’m not really sure why, but they are.

So, what is The Valley of Gwangi about? Well, there is a struggling rodeo looking for the one-act that will change their fortunes before they have to close up shop thanks to low fundage. It comes to their attention that there are prehistoric creatures up in the Forbidden Valley, so they set out to bring one back, thinking that it will save their little dog and pony show.

After some scouting and confrontation, they capture the tyrannosaurs, who they begin to call Gwangi, and take him back to the rodeo as a major attraction. Unfortunately, a gypsy, who had already warned them something would happen, sends someone to set him free. When the curtain is lifted Gwangi begins to rampage about and terrorize the villagers, setting up the film’s dark conclusion.

It has been awhile since I’ve watched a stop motion film, so for those of you that aren’t familiar with my thought on this forgotten art form, I’ll say it again. In my opinion, it is far superior to CGI. Sure, it may look fake, but who is it that says everything has to look real. I don’t watch movies for realism, but rather for sheer entertainment. On top of that, stop motion, similar to hand drawn animation, has the human touch to it, rather than just letting a computer do all the work.

Now, let me get off my soapbox here and say that this really isn’t that interesting of a film. I wish I could say that it kept me interested from start to finish, but that wasn’t the case. Up until the dinosaurs appeared, I was nearly asleep!

The characters in this film just aren’t likable or interesting, as opposed to the dinosaurs who the audience feels for, especially when they take Gwangi away from his home, just because they want to make a few bucks.

In the end, The Valley of Gwangi is hit or miss. For those that are fans of stop motion animation, there is plenty of it to be seen, but for those looking for a good flick, this will severely disappoint. Until the film’s climax, there really isn’t much action, save for a couple of scnes here and there. I can’t really recommend this, but at the same time, I’m not going to say you need to avoid it, either.

3 out of 5 stars


One Response to “The Valley of Gwangi”

  1. […] place in my heart and there was none better than Ray Herryhausen. One of his underrated films is The Valley of Gwangi. Check out the […]

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