Even when leading studio of computer animation Pixar doesn't hit a home run, their filmsmost recently, 2008's "Wall-E
" and 2009's "Up
"can still be counted upon to tell imaginative stories with great characters, quality writing, and timeless themes that both children and adults can relate to or learn from. Their often superlative work puts to shame kiddie junk like "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs," the third and easily most haggard entry in the disposable franchise. Tedious and lazy, the movie is not only a chore to sit through, but instantly forgettable and middling in scale. The animation is close to shoddy in comparison to most of today's big CG heavy-hitters, one enhancement above that of a 1940s or '50s Looney Tunes short, and the level of plotting and scripting is similar to that in a direct-to-video sequel of "The Land Before Time."
Wooly mammoth Manny (voiced by Ray Romano), sloth Sid (John Leguizamo) and saber-toothed tiger Diego (Denis Leary) live in harmony among the comforts of an ice age paradise. Not everyone feels like he fits in, though; believing he is losing his identity and jealous of the impending birth of Manny and partner Ellie's (Queen Latifah) first child, Diego announces his plans to leave the tribe. Before Diego has a chance to move on, Sid stumbles upon three eggs lurking beneath the frozen surface, brings them above-ground, watches them hatch, and is promptly kidnapped by their angry dinosaur mother. With the help of weasel Buck (Simon Pegg), it is now up to Manny, Sid and Ellie to travel into the underground prehistoric land and save Sid.
The best animated features are those that any age group can watch and enjoy. "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" does not fall into that category. Director Carlos Saldanha (2006's "Ice Age: The Meltdown
") has helmed an unsophisticated and juvenile time-sucker that simply does not engage the viewer as it should. Screenwriters Michael Berg, Peter Ackerman, Mike Reiss and Yoni Brenner seem to be fueled on autopilot, their material either narrowly targeting easily pleased single-digit children or wildly inappropriate for that same age group. Adults will be on the verge of catatonia in their lack of interest, but will only be snapped back to consciousness when they spot gags involving a sloth massaging a male yak's penis after mistaking it for a female's udder, and a set-piece in which the group gets high and giggly while passing through mysterious green fumes. No, I'm not kidding.
The alternate prehistoric world where half the film takes place is just as poorly imagined as the rest of it, offering no noteworthy distinguishing qualities and making the viewer yearn, believe it or not, for the recent Will Ferrell fantasy "The Land of the Lost
." At least in that movie the dinosaurs and protagonists showed a bit of appeal and personality. Manny, Sid, Diego and the rest of the central characters seem curiously worn out this time around, a sense of weariness showing in the actors' voices. The climax turns frenetic, but that's all it isempty chaosand therefore just as boring as what has come before. At 87 minutes, the picture wears out its welcome ridiculously early, solves its conflicts, and then goes on for a final aimless fifteen-minute epilogue that is simply interminable.
The saving grace of "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" boils down to the intermittent appearances of plucky, downtrodden squirrel Scrat (voiced in grunts and screams by Chris Wedge) and his ongoing travails in nabbing an acorn to call his own. He is joined by Scratte (Karen Disher), an alluring, albeit wily, new love interest who wants the acorn just as badly, and will use all of her feminine whiles to get it. The non-vocal interplay between Scrat and Scratte is so inventive, comical and charming that it's a shame these two haven't gotten their own film; they are far and away superior to the dull leads, and yet once again are forced to play second banana to third-rate material. Were it not for their adorable scenes, "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaur" would be virtually irredeemable. As it is, the third time is definitely not the charm.
"Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" is being released theatrically in a regular 2-D version, as well as in Real-D 3-D for an additional two- to five-dollar premium charge. Do not be suckered into the latter; this is the most worthless cinematic 3-D presentation since the hokey fad recently came back into style. The film clearly was not originally made with 3-D in mind, and so seeing it that way serves no purpose. Throw in the fact that 3-D decreases the brightness level of the image by twenty percent and the truth becomes clear: this film's use of 3-D is nothing but a shallow, shameless money-getting gimmick. You've been warned.