Director: Carlos Saldanha, Michael Thurmeier
Notable Cast: Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, Simon Pegg, Queen Latifah, Seann William Scott, Chris Wedge
Ice Age, especially the second installment, doesn’t fulfill you like the Pixar films. Consider me spoiled, but when I look at DreamWorks and Fox I see the franchises that have sprung up because of their animated hits, not the greatness of their stories. And with sequels the mediocrity starts to set in with simple pop culture references and stupid humor, or stories that are thinly-plotted or constructed. Pixar isn’t totally immune from sequels (i.e., Toy Story 2 and the forthcoming Toy Story 3), but the studio’s pedigree is impeccable. Now we have Dawn of the Dinosaurs, the third installment in the ultra-successful Ice Age franchise. This time it has ditched its usual March timetable for release, like the other two, in search of greener pastures of a summertime bow. The move on Fox’s part is sure to pay off, since other than Up and a second Night at the Museum, this summer has been anything but kid friendly.
Returning for this latest adventure you have the extended family led by Manny (voiced by Ray Romano), a woolly mammoth not unlike the character he played on Everybody Loves Raymond. He may have been large and in charge in the previous flicks, but he’s a small fry when standing next to his new dinosaur counterparts. If this crisis wasn’t enough, Manny has the headache of being an expecting parent; Ellie (Queen Latifah), his very woolly soul mate, is on the verge of giving birth. But Manny’s not the only one dealing with drama: Diego (Denis Leary) is a saber-toothed tiger whose domesticated lifestyle has caused him to lose his killer instincts. Sid (John Leguizamo), the goofy sloth, is the funnyman of the trio, but someone who still desires to be respected. So he’s Rodney Dangerfield reincarnated. Sid also wants to start a family of his own – an interesting parallel to the first movie in which his parents ditched him. Rather than find a female sloth and have a traditional nuclear family, he discovers three dinosaur eggs. When hatched, Sid becomes an unexpectant “mother” to three T-Rex newborns. Motherhood doesn’t last long, however, as the mother T-Rex shows up looking for her eggs. Mama Tyrannosaurus takes Sid and her babies back to her world of dinosaurs, a world that exists under the ice. Now it’s up to Manny, Ellie, and Diego to venture to the mysterious land and rescue the sloth. New to the adventure is Buck (Simon Pegg), a swashbuckling weasel that has an ongoing feud with a massive dinosaur he calls “Rudy.”
This third installment is more of the same, only this time it has the added 3D effect: a gimmick I’m not totally sold on. The story is simply Manny, Ellie and Diego going to the lost world to rescue Sid. It’s all about the thrill of the chase. Sequences involve molten lava, a flying squadron of Pterodactyls, and narrow escapes. The added dinosaur plot is either to move toy merchandise or it’s to cater to those who love dinosaurs. But it’s been seven years in between the first and third films. So doing the math, those who saw the first Ice Age when they were seven would be fourteen now, well past the dinosaur phase.
The humor, thankfully, refrains from pop culture references (save for a “Yabba Dabba Doo”), but it comes off as half-baked in some instances. Buck is an added character, but too much of him goes a long way.
The only part of Dawn of the Dinosaurs that works is the side story involving Scrat the saber-toothed squirrel. His misadventures account for the best moments in all three films. He doesn’t say a word, but his grunts and body language are all the explanation we need. His neverending quest for his acorn knows no bounds, and this time he has competition (or is it love interest?). Like the classic Wiley Coyote/Road Runner shorts, Scrat finds himself in one unbelievable situation after another and each time the humor quotient goes up.
Since franchises are a lucrative commodity in Hollywood, Ice Age will make money regardless if it’s embraced by critics. In a summer where kid-centric movies are in short supply, it’s a quick way to beat the heat of the scorching sun. But do yourself a favor and save the money that would have went towards the 3D experience and have yourself a Merrie Melodies marathon instead.
FINAL RATING (ON A SCALE OF 1-5 BUCKETS):
Tags: Fox, Ice Age, Pixar, Up