I found the original Ice Age to be a reasonably funny little movie when I saw it in theaters back in 2002, even if it borrowed its central "missing child" plotline from Pixar's superior Monsters, Inc. It took me until now to see the sequel, subtitled The Meltdown, but I thought that it too was enjoyable and clever enough, if nothing I would have bothered to watch were I not reviewing the third film. Sadly, the trilogy goes out on a flat note thanks to this mostly obligatory entry into the series, which loses the character interaction that makes the first two interesting in favor of dull-as-dirt humor that failed to rustle up any chuckles on my end. Surprisingly, it was one of 2009's most profitable films, but I'm hoping the animation team at Blue Sky lets the trilogy be and moves on to greener pastures.
In Dawn of the Dinosaurs, Manny (voice of Ray Romano), Ellie (voice of Queen Latifah) and Diego (voice of Denis Leary) end up searching through an underground lost world in search of their sloth friend Sid (voice of John Leguizamo), who has been unexpectedly kidnapped by a mother T-rex after Sid inadvertently started to raise her three T-rex babies as his own. To complicate matters further, we have Diego constantly looking over his shoulder, wondering if he should leave the group behind in the face of signs that he's losing his touch as a deadly predator, a pregnant Ellie ready to deliver at any minute, and the demented wild-weasel Buck (voice of Simon Pegg) as their tour guide through the underworld, always hoping to continue his ongoing battle with a dangerous dinosaur he calls "Rudy".
The biggest problem with this third Ice Age movie is that it feels inorganic. There's nothing about this story that demands the movie exist, no pull on the audience to wonder what the characters are up to. Admittedly, The Meltdown didn't feel particularly necessary either, but at least the melting ice was a logical plot progression. Since dinosaurs went extinct before the ice age even started -- a fact that, thankfully, the movie is aware of -- the story this time naturally ends up feeling a little more strained. Still, the movie could be fine, but the various character story threads are equally lacking. Diego's fears about his ferociousness, for instance, is an element that takes 30 seconds to introduce, is completely ignored for the subsequent 70 minutes, and resolved in another 30 seconds. There's simply no reason to care.
The second-biggest issue with Dawn is that the characters no longer feel like they're interacting. I actually watched The Meltdown after viewing Dawn of the Dinosaurs (just on a whim) and I was struck by how much stronger the interactions between any of our heroes felt in the first sequel than they do in the second. In The Meltdown, Sid and Diego have actual conversations, and Sid even saves Diego from danger. This time around, everyone is focused on their own things, the result is a sense of distance between them. The heroes of Ice Age have been reduced from characters to caricatures, thin shells of their former selves that are identifiable but are no longer felt, and not even the reliably Looney-Tunes-esque antics of Scrat the squirrel or a major performance by the always-clever Simon Pegg can elevate the character pulse of the movie beyond the barest minimum. Manny and Ellie's bond over the baby serves as the movie's strongest relationship by a mile, but even that connection is fairly basic. I also wasn't a huge fan of Crash (voice of Seann William Scott) and Eddie (voice of Josh Peck) in The Meltdown, but this time the two possums' "comic relief" is positively irritating.
Near the end of the third reel, returning director Carlos Saldanha finally rallies a little spirit together in a rousing, action-packed 15 minutes that does a good job of creating something meant to be exciting and thrilling rather than perilous (since viewers like myself and even, I think, the children probably know deep down that a movie like this isn't going to kill off their favorite characters, much less a sequel). The film was released in 3D when it played in movie theaters earlier this year, but the sequence is quite a ride even without the visual enhancement, and throughout the rest of the movie, I didn't notice any moments that felt too "set up" or designed specifically for the extra dimension.
In the end, I don't want to diss the work of hundreds of talented animators, who have designed and released a perfectly good-looking film; on a technical level, Dawn of the Dinosaurs is a perfectly acceptable movie. Sadly, the modern movie industry is determined to make every film into a franchise if it can, adapting long-running book series and comic book characters with decades worth of history just to string things along for as long as they can. The original Ice Age was never calling out for a sequel, but we got lucky with the perfectly entertaining follow-up just the same. Now we have Ice Age 3, the worst kind of entry in an ongoing series: the one where it all becomes a commodity rather than a movie.
The DVD, Video and Audio
Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs arrived on a DVD-R in a paper sleeve, so I can't confidently grade the packaging, video and audio for this release. However, a quick check on the net reveals that the final product should deliver 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen audio, English Dolby Digital 5.1 and French and Spanish Surround, and English captions for the hearing impaired and Spanish subtitles.
I was quite surprised to see that Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs was my first two-disc 20th Century Fox screener, since most 2-disc sets these days are actually a 1-disc special edition and a digital copy (which Fox doesn't provide). The first disc contains only one major bonus feature, an audio commentary by director Carlos Saldanha, co-director Mike Thurmeier, producers John Donkin and Lori Forte, art director Michael Knapp, character designer Peter de Sève and supervising animator Galen Tan Chu. It's a perfectly fine audio commentary, but far from a must-listen (a shame that none of the cast was willing to join in, and the fact that there's a significant gap of silence at the movie's 2 minute mark despite seven participants is a sign of the track's occasional issues).
The only other "extra" on the disc is an advertisement titled "Marley Meets Purina Puppy Chow" (0:32), featuring Owen Wilson and Marley & Me's title character. Teaser trailers for Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel and Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, trailers for Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian and Aliens in the Attic and a promo for "Glee" play before the menu, while an additional batch of trailers for "Family Favorites", the Love Comes Softly Collection, The Pink Panther 2, Strawberry Shortcake: The Sky's The Limit and Flicka 2 are accessible from the menu.
The second disc starts out with the short films "Gone Nutty -- Scrat's Missing Adventure" (4:54) and "No Time For Nuts" (7:07), both starring the perpetually doomed Scrat the squirrel. They're both entertaining, but Ice Age aficionados will probably be upset: they're from the previous DVDs for Ice Age and Ice Age: The Meltdown rather than new shorts created for this release, yet another indication that Blue Sky may have been going through the motions on this one.
Several featurettes are next, providing the bulk of the supplemental material.
- "The Saber-Toothed Squirrel: Nature's Nutty Buddy" (1:49) is a fake educational film about Scrat featuring clips from the movies.
- "Scrat From Head to Toe: Learn How to Draw Scrat" (8:23) is a short tutorial on how to draw Scrat and behind-the-scenes about the character. Don't know if kids will sit through it, but it's fun to see Blue Sky founder Chris Wedge performing the voice.
- "Scrat: Breaking Story" (1:50) and "Scrat: News Report" (2:30) are odd fake trailer for a live-action dramatic film/documentary about Scrat.
- "Fox Movie Channel Presents: Making a Scene" (9:09) is one of the studio's traditional, EPK-style behind-the-scenes look at one scene from Dawn of the Dinosaurs.
- "Falling For Scratte" (8:29) is a funny chat about Scrat's new female counterpart from Dawn of the Dinosaurs. Some overlap with the "Head to Toe" featurette.
- "Buck: From Easel to Weasel" (7:11) is a genial discussion of Simon Pegg's character, complete with a few words from the actor and other crew members.
- "Unearthing the Lost World" (8:41) seems to be the primary EPK featurette, including general interviews with the voice cast. Pretty agreeable, as far as these things go.
The first four featurettes all have a copyright date of 2006 and only contain footage and references relating to Ice Age: The Meltdown, so clearly those bonus features are lazy holdovers from the supplemental material produced for that film, although a glance at the bonus listings from the DVD and Blu-Rays of those movies doesn't list these specific extras, so they may be premiering here for the first time.
The DVD is wrapped up with a music video for Queen Latifah's reasonably spirited cover of "Walk the Dinosaur" (1:32) -- a song that appeared in a previous John Leguizamo film, Super Mario Bros. -- and some DVD-ROM games that I didn't bother to access.
The third entry into the Ice Age series feels overwhelmingly routine, lacking the comedy and character that the previous films had, only perking up briefly for a late-breaking action scene. This 2-disc DVD contains a slew of mediocre bonus material; not only is the one major feature (the commentary) is slightly lacking, some of the featurettes in this 2-disc set are actually 2-year-old holdover extras created to promote the previous sequel. All in all, unless you're a die hard Ice Age fan, you'd be better off throwing in one of the previous two movies rather than giving this new one a spin. Skip it.
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