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Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs
The third in the Ice Age franchise is beautifully designed and animated, but has been leeched of much of its predecessors' charm, which has been replaced with a trite, silly sitcom plot. Running out of gags and ideas, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs relies only somewhat on past successes while spinning a story that puts suspension of disbelief to a test, even for an animated film.
As the mammoths Manny and Ellie (Ray Romano and Queen Latifah) prepare for the arrival of their baby, the saber-toothed tiger Diego (Denis Leary) begins to feel his age and decides to leave the "herd." Feeling left out, Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo) decides to hatch his own family from a trio of eggs he finds hidden in a crevasse. They hatch, and Sid finds himself raising three baby T-Rexes. Their mother, however, returns and seizes them, along with Sid. The herd gives chase and winds up in a vast underground cavern - a Doyle-inspired "lost world" of dinosaurs. There, they team up with a one-eyed weasel called Buckminster (Simon Pegg) and face a series of challenges in rescuing Sid and getting back to the surface alive. Through all of this, of course, is the saber-toothed squirrel Scrat, forever chasing the elusive acorn, only this time a female of his species complicates matters.
I don't have strong negative feelings about Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs. The movie was neither dull nor offensive. But before I elaborate on what I liked about it, I must say that my overall reaction was benign disappointment. The first two films maintained a consistent cleverness and only a minimal reliance upon television-grade jokes and middle-class morality. Here, there is an overriding laziness haunting the whole picture - hearing Ray Romano bitch about married life here sounds out of place, as if the audio from Romano's tedious television program is being recycled. The entire plotline resembles that of a generic sitcom episode, and the imposition of that sensibility upon the world of the Ice Age series - a world founded upon an improvisational feel, and a sense of unpredictability and adventure - made me extremely uneasy.
Beyond this there is the unavoidable fact that mammoths and saber-toothed tigers did not cohabitate with dinosaurs in any prehistoric epoch. I know this movie is mainly for kids, and I know it's a cartoon. I also realize that the conceit in Dawn of the Dinosaurs is that of the aforementioned "lost world." But the first two Ice Age films were true to the era they sought to depict from a zoological and botanical point of view; research was obviously conducted and care taken to depict animals contemporaneous to a particular time and place. Dawn of the Dinosaurs abandons that conscientiousness and opts for the easy way out. It's like someone said, "Fuck it. If it was good enough for The Flintstones, it's good enough for us."
As I said, there is still plenty to admire about the series' third entry. For one, the animation is outstanding, even improving upon the first two. You can almost feel the incredibly complete textures of the creatures' skin and fur. The backgrounds are beautifully designed. The animals' motion is captured with a convincing fluidity that can only be compared to that in Bambi. And, the movie has plenty of laughs, most of which come from the misadventures of Scrat and, as she's called in the credits, Scratte. Their antics comprise some of the most entertaining and inventive animation in the feature, and I suspect that Scrat's silent film-like struggles for the ever-unattainable acorn are the primary source of the series' ongoing success. To use the old SAT formulation, Scrat:Ice Age::Urkel:Family Matters.
Simon Pegg's Buckminster is the most enjoyable of the new characters. Although Buck is very much an animated version of Captain Jack Sparrow, Pegg's performance adds nuances and wit to the tale-spinning weasel's flea-bitten countenance. The characters of the herd seem to be going through the motions here and frankly are not a source of much humor or interest. The thoroughly domestic Manny and Ellie have grown boring, just as we all do when kids enter the picture. Sid's familial ambitions are trite, and Diego fears aging. They make for a dull quartet, and only Scrat, Scratte, and Buck prevent them from sinking the film.
The Video and Audio
The anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer is generally strong, with some truly excellent depth. The animation is wonderful, making for a memorable visual experience. However, the transfer is not flawless - it's marred by several sequences that suffer from some intense pixilation. What comes close to a reference-quality presentation just flat-out bites it at certain moments. The 5.1 audio is fine, with some very active surrounds. Animated films can be greatly improved by using a broad sound stage, making for a more immersive experience in what is an otherwise purely escapist entertainment. The sound design here does a good job of pulling the viewer in to this totally made-up universe. Spanish and French stereo tracks are optional.
The single-disc release contains a rather self-congratulatory commentary track featuring director Carlos Saldanha and a host of animators and crew. There are also a handful of trailers.
On the two-disc release, the second disc contains a lot of features, most of which are fairly short, and almost all of which revolve around Scrat. Scrat Shorts comprise two short subjects: Gone Nutty - Scrat's Missing Adventure (4:59) and No Time for Nuts (7:07). The Saber Toothed Squirrel: Nature's Nutty Buddy (1:48) is an amusing faux educational film. Scrat: From Head to Toe (Learn How to Draw Scrat - Tutorial!) (8:22) is exactly what it sounds like, with video input from the animators. Two promotional pieces, cast as fake news stories, are next: Scrat: "Breaking Story" (1:50) and Scrat: "News Report" (2.29).
Fox Movie Channel presents Making a Scene (9:09) is an EPK-type piece. Falling for Scratte (8:29) details the development of Scrat's female foil. Buck: From Easel to Weasel (7:11) traces the creation of Dawn of the Dinosaurs' most engaging character. Unearthing the Lost World (8:40) is possibly the most interesting extra, in which members of the production crew discuss the design of the film. Walk the Dinosaur (1:31) is a "music video" made up of film clips. In addition to this, there are a few DVD-ROM games for the kids.
The third Ice Age film feels a bit repetitive and stale, even though things are enlivened by fine design and animation, as well as a couple of engaging new characters. For kids, this is great stuff, hands down, and will certainly make for an entertaining evening at home. I don't feel any certainty about the technical aspects of this release, nor am I clear on which bonus content is intended for which edition. Therefore, I can only recommend that you rent it.