Blue Sky Studios has had some highs and lows. Their very first feature film, Ice Age, was original, funny, and heartwarming. The second Ice Age film, The Meltdown, was jumbled, unimaginative, and dull. Outside the franchise Robots was insipid and cliched but Horton Hears A Who was fun and inspired. So going in to their latest film, Ice Age: Dawn Of The Dinosaurs, I didn’t know what to expect. I admit that with this not only being the film to follow The Meltdown but also it being the third film in the franchise (which hardly ever bodes well) I didn’t have my hopes up. Could they reach all the way back to 2002 to capture some of the magic from the first film? No, but instead, they brought some new magic of their own to make a completely different film.
Manny and Ellie are expecting and Sid and Diego are feeling like third and fourth wheels. Each handles this in their own way. Diego decides to strike out on his own, feeling that he has lost some of his fierceness. And Sid decides to become a mother to some eggs he has found in a cavern. The eggs hatch into baby dinosaurs and soon their real mommy comes to get them — dragging Sid away with them. Manny, Ellie, and Diego travel to an underground lost world to rescue him, with the help of a demented but resourceful weasel.
Ice Age 3 is very different from the preceding films in the franchise. The new film features a much more action-adventure type vibe — and the filmmakers have done a surprisingly good job with it. There are several really fun and exciting sequences that will have kids on the edge of their seats and adults watching with interest. The story itself is much better put together than The Meltdown. That film felt like a disjointed jumble of scenes, while Dawn of the Dinosaurs has a much more solid and cohesive plot that actually feels like it is going somewhere. That said there were a few minor quibbles. Like the second film, the beginning of the movie felt very rushed. There was no easing into the Ice Age world. While not an “in medias res” situation exactly, it does feel we are dropped into a story that has already started a few minutes before we got there. Another aspect that threw me out of the story for a moment was the underground lost world itself. I understand that this is not real — mammoths don’t talk and all that! But when they tell us we’re underground can they at least avoid putting the sun down there! I understand the decision — “the film is about the ice age, how can we include dinosaurs?” It really is not a big deal, especially once the action gets started. While a solid story and some unexpectedly good action are great, what would Ice Age be without the laughs? Thankfully the humor is there and nicely blended into the story rather than seemingly one-off jokes. As with previous installments, some of the humor is aimed more at the adults in the audience and will hopefully go over kids’ heads. And, as usual, the Scrat segments just about steal the show!
The animation in Ice Age 3 is some of the best Blue Sky Studios has done to date. White snow and ice is probably very limiting and the chance to break out of that with these characters in a more lush setting was a situation the animators took good advantage of. The design for the main new character, a weasel named Buck, while fitting in well with the regulars has a fun contrasting style. Seeing the film in 3-D reveals one slightly annoying issue: too many gimmicky 3-D effects. 3-D can be fun but when it is done too obviously and too excessively it just reminds you you’re sitting in a theatre wearing silly glasses.
The main cast of Ice Age (Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, and Denis Leary) have got their roles down pat at this point and all give solid performances. I’m still not completely into Queen Latifah as Ellie. I hear the actress more than the character, but that could be down to my own awareness of the actress and may not bother other viewers. Seann William Scott and Josh Peck as Ellie’s “brothers” Crash and Eddie are fine but forgettable (though that may be more on the writers that the actors). A newcomer to the franchise, Simon Pegg gives an impressive performance as Buck. At turns intrepid and insane, but both well done and very funny.
After the surprisingly good and touching debut Ice Age and the disappointing The Meltdown, Dawn of the Dinosaurs could be considered the best of the three. While missing the heart of the first it adds action, adventure, more fun, and some great visuals. The Ice Age franchise may not be extinct.
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?
|Ice Age: Dawn Of The Dinosaurs|
20th Century Fox /Blue Sky Studios
July 1, 2009
directed by Carlos Saldanha & Mike Thurmeier