Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs: This Movie is Dino-Mite!
This was a surprise. I enjoyed the first two Ice Ages due to their cartoony visuals, their occasional witty banter, and Scrat, the Chuck Jones-inspired prehistoric creature always after his acorn. However, they both had their deficiencies, since their simplistic stories usually led to wasted characters or dragging pace. The new Ice Age installment, on the other hand, introduces new characters, a new world, and new levels of wit, action, and quality of animation. When you also factor in that this Ice Age has the funniest Scrat interludes as well, this is easily the best Ice Age film and deserves to be mentioned alongside Kung Fu Panda as the closest rival studios have gotten to Pixar to date.
Manny (Ray Romano) and Ellie (Queen Latifah) are preparing to have a baby mammoth. Diego (Denis Leary) feels this domestic life is making him lose his predatory instincts and has decided to hit the road. This leaves Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo) all alone, feeling some pangs of desire for parenthood in order to have what Manny has. He falls through some ice into a dark cave and finds three eggs. Ignoring common sense per usual, he draws faces on them and calls them his babies (“I’ve named them Eggbert, Shelley, and Yoko,” he proudly announces). When they hatch and turn out to be dinosaurs, most creatures in the Ice Age are confused—until Mama T-Rex comes to town and claims her babies back, taking Sid with her. Our heroes follow the dinosaur into the cave, and find a new world underground, where dinosaurs still roam. With the help of an eyepatch-sporting weasel named Buck (Simon Pegg), they try to find their friend. And yes, Scrat’s acorn falls into the cave too, where he wrestles over it with Scratté, a lovely female Scrat.
The movie was obviously going to be funny from the beginning when Scrat and Scratté first interact. The movie was obviously going to be great after a sequence in which Sid’s three eggs roll down a long snowy hill and he races after them, trying to grab them with his hands and feet. It’s one of the most effortlessly fun action sequences this summer. Unlike past Ice Age films, this movie throws a great deal at you to build the tension. There’s the coming baby. There’s Sid’s mortal peril. There are dinosaurs lurking around every corner, especially Rudy, a legendary lizard that makes T-rex look like a kindergartener. Finally, there’s the end of this world, a lava river that turns to a waterfall, where all of the characters (including Rudy) seem to be convening at once. It’s good storytelling, full of lovable characters with a lot to lose.
The animation is also on another plane this time around, since the new world challenges the animators to create a background that is more than just snow, and action sequences that are more inventively staged than in the past two outings. Finally, Buck must be mentioned, as he is an enormously valuable addition to the crew. He’s a completely loose cannon, capable of doing or saying anything at any moment, and his flair for the dramatic causes the camera to dramatically zoom towards his face at choice moments. Voiced by Simon Pegg, he gets a laugh with nearly every one-liner and tells a riveting flashback tale of his battle history with Rudy. He also gets to parody some of my favorite action movie clichés. When a plant is drowning him in digestive fluid, and in order to escape, he has to cut either the blue or red wire-like tendril, you’ll laugh. When he’s flying a pterodactyl, and he screams, “We’re losing altitude!” and you see the eyeball of the dinosaur spinning around like the needle in the altitude gauge in any airplane crash you’ve ever seen in a film, you’ll laugh. Combine all of this with some of the smoothest use of 3D in a film to date. It’s a fun, action-packed film that will put a smile on your face. Other movies sink in their vain efforts to please. This one (dino?) soars.