In a world where woolly mammoths fraternize with weasels and speak with the voices of Ray Romano and Queen Latifah, it's not an entirely difficult stretch to accept that these creatures shared the Earth with dinosaurs. Hell, we should be probably semi-thankful to those at Blue Sky Studios for this history-altering diversion, which prevents the third installment of their Ice Age franchise from wallowing in such political undercurrents as did the previous sequel, The Meltdown. Still, for a movie involving those terrible lizards, not a hell of a lot happens, and, after several "action" scenes in which characters slide uncontrollably down snow-covered slopes and nearly lose their lives in disastrous joyrides that, inexplicably, don't continue at the edge of cliffs, I'm tempted to believe that the majority of the landscape of Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs is tilted at a forty-five degree angle. This, apparently, was the greatest example of imaginative peril that four screenwriters (Michael Berg, Peter Ackerman, Mike Reiss, Yoni Brenner) and an actual storywriter (Jason Carter Eaton) could dream up for their characters. Indeed, in the absence of a decent plot, director Carlos Saldanha chooses to periodically awaken his audience with those notoriously annoying yet oh-so-zany 3D effects involving beaks and tusks jutting out from the movie screen. Perhaps, in the future, the industry standard should involve a prerequisite, that is, an actual half-assed story requirement that must be satisfied before a film can even get a 3D greenlight.
That's probably too way much to ask for.
In Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, the story picks up with the impending parenthood of two mammoths, sardonic Manny (Ray Romano) and his partner, Ellie (Queen Latifah). Manny decides to try and render nature "childproof," so he creates a special playground for the baby and, otherwise, generally does a lot of bellyaching about how dangerous the world can be for a child. As a result, Manny's good buddies, a sabre-toothed tiger named Diego (Denis Leary) and a sloth known as Sid (John Leguizamo) begin to feel like it's time to move on. Diego fears that he's "lost his edge" due to his relatively domesticated existence, so he sets off for new adventures. Meanwhile, Sid decides that he wants children of his own, so adopts a trio of "abandoned" eggs from an underground cavern. Naturally, these eggs belong to one pissed off mommy dinosaur, so she retrieves her babies and takes them, along with Sid, into an underground world and towards some weird cluster of volcanoes, which, supposedly, is where dinosaurs, as a rule, raise their young. Despite the fact that Ellie is quite pregnant, she probably figures that this film isn't gonna have a story unless Manny, Diego, and herself set off to rescue Sid. Once underground, they acquire a tour guide of sorts in Buck (Simon Pegg), a swashbuckling, mostly deranged weasel who lives in the dinosaurs' underground realm and spends his days searching for yet another showdown with the largest, fiercest dinosaur of them all, Rudy.
From there, the plot doesn't grow any more exciting or any less predictable, but Pegg does a fairly impressive job generating interest for his moderately well-drawn character. In fact, Buck 's swaggering ways are the only thing that keeps Scrat (Chris Wedge) the rodent-squirrel from stealing the entirety of the film with his continuing and unrequited acorn-chasing interludes. Then again, Scrat himself becomes less of a novelty in this sequel, for he finds himself actually starting to lose interest in the acorn after his heart is captured by a sexy female squirrel. Fortunately, Buck takes charge of the picture and keeps everything from falling into a molten pit of lava, with Pegg striking the perfect balance between the imbalanced voice work of the franchise's usual players. No nuance can be found in the voices of Romano and Latifah, who are recognizable to the point of indifferent distraction. During the entire film, I keep expecting Manny to get hit over his head by an overbearing mother and Ellie to start busting a move. More subtle turns come from Leary and Leguizamo, but Pegg finishes winningly while clearly enjoying the swinging bachelor life of his courageous, wily weasel.
Parents will be pleased to know that Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaur doesn't contain much toilet humor. Unfortunately, however, the film does contain several jokes involving the difference between boys and girls, including a bit where Sid tries to milk a male animal but, instead, unwittingly begins to jerk off the shocked creature. Hey, this ain't Pixar, folks. It's not even Dreamworks, but it will keep the kiddies entertained. As for yourself, bring a pillow because you're gonna need it.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at agentbedhead.com.