Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (United States, 2009)

June 29, 2009
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs Poster

With each release, Pixar explores new themes and ideas. Meanwhile, animation studios like Fox retread tired "franchises" like Ice Age. Never representative of more than mediocrity from a technical or story-based standpoint, the Ice Age series has reached a new nadir with its third entry. Rather than adding an extra dimension to the entertainment, the decision to release Dawn of the Dinosaurs in 3D merely gives the animators an opportunity to be more slipshod in their design and execution. For the most part, the movie plays out like a demo for the video game, careening from one improbable action sequence to the next. I can see how the challenge of mastering some of these puzzles might be fun in an interactive forum, but they're deadly dull in a movie.

Once again, the talking, prehistoric mammals are back, ready to embark upon another adventure. Manny the Mammoth (voice of Ray Romano) and his mate, Ellie (Queen Latifa), are about to embark upon parenthood. Diego the Sabertooth Tiger (Denis Leary), feeling he has lost "it," elects to leave behind the herd and strike out on his own. And Sid the Sloth (John Leguizamo) decides that, like Manny, he wants a family of his own. He achieves this goal not by finding a female and doing it the old fashioned way but by discovering three unhatched dinosaur eggs. Soon, he is being followed by three newly hatched T-Rexes, which is okay until a perturbed mother shows up wondering where her babies are. It turns out that there is a lost world of dinosaurs under the ice and, when Mama T-Rex kidnaps Sid and transports him down there, Manny, Ellie, and Diego follow. They are soon joined by a crazy weasel (Simon Pegg) denizen of the underworld who spends his days and nights hunting the biggest, baddest dinosaur of them all: a gargantuan carnivore called "Rudy."

In the previous Ice Age movies, the best reasons to watch were related to the misadventures of Scrat the Sabertooth Squirrel, the prehistoric equivalent of Wiley Coyote. In Dawn of the Dinosaurs, Scrat is the only reason to watch. Here, as always, he's after the elusive acorn, but he has also been given a foil/love interest, something the adds a little variety to his neverending quest for sustenance. Scrat appears periodically throughout the film to liven things up, but the proceedings get pretty dull when he's not around. It's no wonder that the Dawn of the Dinosaurs trailer focuses entirely on Scrat, wisely ignoring everyone else. The movie's "values oriented" themes pander to nuclear family moms and dads to the exclusion of all else. The humor is less than half-baked. Laughs are few and far between and more often than not relate to gender differences. (Example: what happens when you try to "milk" a male cow?)

Very little happens over the course of the film. What passes for a "story" is nothing more than a thinly-veiled excuse to incorporate dinosaurs into the proceedings, presumably because they're popular with little boys. They're a cross between the Jurassic Park breed and those that populated The Flintstones cartoon TV series, and the adult T-Rex bears more than a passing resemblance to the one harassing Will Ferrell in Land of the Lost - probably an association Fox would prefer that viewers not make. The plot unfolds at a sloth-like pace, with no indication that there was any real joy or creativity involved in the production. Dawn of the Dinosaurs has the feel of something that was assembled as quickly as possible before the franchise's young built-in audience could outgrow the infantile protagonists.

The most disappointing thing about Dawn of the Dinosaurs is the movie's look. I'm not going to complain about how cheesy the dinosaurs appear - that goes with the territory. After all, this is a movie in which the main character is a talking Wooly Mammoth. But everything in this world is bland and generic. There's no texture in the foreground and no detail in the background. It's a small step up from Saturday morning cartoon quality. The excuse, I suppose, is that the "3D experience" compensates, but it also mutes the colors and dims the brightness. Dawn of the Dinosaurs looks awful. If I was one of the CGI animators, I'd be embarrassed to be associated with the film. I have seen amateur filmmakers do better work on their Macs.

Like Madagascar and Shrek (both Dreamworks properties), Ice Age is a brand-name and people will see it for that reason alone. Quality doesn't come into it. It's another example of something that offers a passable diversion for kids and a restless 90 minutes for the adults who accompany them. The 3D surcharge is a rip-off: the movie doesn't do anything with the effect and there are even a few instances when it appears to be improperly applied. I'm sure the 2D experience isn't appreciably better but it is guaranteed to be brighter and more colorful and it won't cost as much. The best option is to ignore the existence of Dawn of the Dinosaurs altogether and see Up a second time. A repeat viewing of the Pixar film will be more rewarding than a first viewing of the latest Ice Age entry. And, if you're enamored with Scrat, you can wait for the DVD, when judicious use of the fast-forward button will cut out the extraneous 80 minutes during which he does not appear.

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (United States, 2009)

Director: Carlos Saldanha, Mike Thurmeier
Cast: (voices) Ray Romano, Denis Leary, John Leguizamo, Queen Latifa, Josh Peck, Simon Pegg, Sean William Scott, Chris Wedge
Music: John Powell
U.S. Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Run Time: 1:34
U.S. Release Date: 2009-07-01
MPAA Rating: "PG"
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1