Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (2009)

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs is the third in a series of animated films, of which I have only seen the first, for full disclosure. I very much enjoyed the first film. It was clever, entertaining, funny, and the Scrat the Squirrel sequences were little Tex Avery-like masterpieces of squirrel against nature. Frankly, the other characters were a bit less interesting, but their interplay was fun and made some skewed cartoon sense.

The third film, available in 3-D, which is how I saw it, was a big letdown. For one thing, the 3-D rendering, with the exception of a few quite interesting and well-done tableaux, is the least impressive I've ever seen, including The Nightmare Before Christmas, which was not even orginally designed for 3-D. Compared to the best I've seen, Coraline and Bolt, it was amateurish at best. For some reason (I'm not a 3-D technician), specific blue and purplish colors left streaky shadows that were mostly distracting, though not too bad when the scene was mostly ice. A strange glare effect used widely took away from the resolution of the images, making them blurry, indistinct, and flatter. Most scenes did not seem designed to take advantage of the format at all, and it seemed pasted on, not dynamic at all. I do not think there was a projection issue, as the theater where I saw it has had 3-D for a good while and has excellent projection in general.

Then there's the story and the dialogue (oof!). Our woolly mammoth characters, Manny and Ellie (voices of Ray Romano and Queen Latifah), are expecting a little mammoth soon, which makes the tiger, Diego (Denis Leary), feel his own mortality and contemplate finding a change of scenery. It also makes Sid the Sloth (voice of John Leguizamo) depressed and jealous, until he finds three eggs in an underground ice cave and resolves to raise them as his own, whatever they turn out to be when they hatch.

They turn out to be dinosaurs, which all of our familiar characters had thought to be extinct (me, too), but which turn out to have survived in at least one underground hot pocket. ("Ice Age: Senselessly Prolonged But Sure Extinction of the Dinosaurs" would not have been as mellifluous, or fit on the marquee.) Sid, of course, is abducted there by the real mother dinosaur, and Manny, Ellie, Diego and two possums attempt a rescue mission.

This opening part is all pretty sleep-inducing, and not very entertaining, despite the sense that everyone was trying very hard to pretend it was while making it. I think there are too many characters, for one thing, for any sharp or bright conflicts to develop.

One character who does seem necessary, and adds some excitement, if not depth, is Buck (voice of Simon Pegg), an eye-patched adventurer weasel who makes his lonely and insane way in the dinosaurs' keep. Most of the visually interesting and exciting action takes place around him. He doesn't say much clever or funny, but he does some clever and funny things, which is a welcome relief.

Which brings us to the return of Scrat the Squirrel, whose return is not so welcome. The 3-D preview is another little masterpiece, and played in the theater to laughter and applause every time I saw it. It adds a female squirrel for Scrat to flirt with and fight with over an acorn, and it is the opening sequence of the film. Talk about blowing the good parts of a movie in the preview! The rest of the Scrat interludes are cruddy, forced and lame.

I do have the sneaking suspicion that if I were to watch the second movie, or if I were confronted point by point on some of my criticisms by enthusiasts of both of the first two films, that might give me reasons from the plot of the second which might enlighten me, or even change my opinion slightly in places. This is not an invitation for enthusiasts of the first two films to confront me point by point, but maybe some will anyway. Maybe I'll even go back and watch the second one sometime.

This film was tops at the box office over the weekend, so it's entirely possible I'm the odd man out. Kids may enjoy it, or maybe it's riding on the popularity of the first two films and will crash quickly. I would certainly not pay to see it again, or pay the extra little bit to see it in 3-D again, especially if I was bringing lots of kids along with me.

7-6-09


Links for Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs

Internet Movie Database Entry

Roger Ebert Review

Official Site

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