'Ice Age' Is Not-So-Deep Freeze
James Rocchi, Special to MSN Movies
There are very few sure things in Hollywood, but when a film and its sequel have made close to a billion dollars at the box office worldwide, a third film seems fairly assured. "Ice Age" and "Ice Age: The Meltdown," from animators Blue Sky Studios, were well-received kids flicks -- slapstick prehistoric adventures that followed woolly mammoth Manny (Ray Romano), giant sloth Sid (John Leguizamo) and saber-toothed tiger Diego (Denis Leary) as they bickered and bonded in the ancient world. In "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs," the by-now familiar trio -- and pals like Ellie the mammoth (Queen Latifah) and the scrawny, scuffling proto-squirrel Scrat (Chris Wedge) -- are dealing with domesticity. Manny and Ellie are having a baby, and the mating bells are breaking up that old gang of theirs: Manny and Ellie are anxiously awaiting the baby; Sid, good-hearted but dim-witted, is curious about how he'll fit into the new order; Diego, feeling like his settled life is slowing his predator ways down, is thinking about moving on.
But before "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" can turn into an animated episode of "thirtysomething" with prehistoric mammals -- which sounds either horrible or wonderful, when you think about it -- the plot (such as it is) kicks in: Sid, in an ice crevasse, finds three eggs ... and then falls into a world below the ice, a tropic Eden where dinosaurs still walk the Earth. Uh, still walk the hidden land inside the Earth. You know what I mean. The eggs Sid found were T-Rex eggs, and while the trio of hatchlings think he's mom, mom has a different point of view; meanwhile, Manny, Diego and Ellie (and opossum pals Eddie (Josh Peck) and Crash (Seann William Scott) follow Sid on a rescue mission to the land of the dinosaurs, where they meet wild-eyed weasel Buck (Simon Pegg), who's been living by his (scattered) wits in a jungle of terror.
"Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" doesn't shoot for the majesty or meaning of a Pixar production. Instead, co-directors Carlos Saldanha and Mike Thurmeier just keep the gags coming and never let up, breaking away from our heroes occasionally to follow Scrat as he's torn between two equally appealing objects of desire: a comely female of his species and an acorn. The voice work is fine -- although only Leguizamo and Pegg give what you'd call performances, while Leary, Romano and Latifah just put their public personas on four legs instead of two. Buck's actually an appealing enough character that I wished the movie were more about him than the returning ones: He's scrappy but crazy, rough and tough but addled.
I'll also note that while the first two "Ice Age" films didn't have anything like what you could call "scientific rigor" or "biological accuracy," they did at least take place in a consistent world; the addition of dinosaurs to the mix feels like a pretty blatant cash grab, but I think it's safe to suggest that the sound of Charles Darwin rolling in his grave will be drowned out by the ringing of the cash registers at the box office. And the 3-D animation is well-done, but again, it's just tacked on to try to squeeze a little more life out of the fur-covered franchise -- which is, frighteningly enough, the closest thing Fox has to a guaranteed moneymaker. There are chases and escapes, morals and messages, comedy and character in "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs," but when the fur stops flying, it still feels more frozen than fresh.
James Rocchi's writings on film have appeared at Cinematical.com, Netflix.com, SFGate.com and in Mother Jones magazine. He lives in Los Angeles, where every ending is a twist ending.