Ice Age digs deep for comedy gold
By Jared Peterson
The misfit mammals of Ice Age have returned for a third adventure, this time tangling with the remnants of prehistory’s hefty reptiles. As in the first two films, Dawn of the Dinosaurs follows the adventures of an unlikely herd, a motley assortment of creatures that have come together to form a surrogate family. Having found love, Manny the mammoth (Ray Romano) is expecting his first child with his mate Ellie (Queen Latifah). Sid (John Leguizamo), a hapless and goofy sloth, catches baby fever from them, but has no dating opportunities of his own. One day, he stumbles across a clutch of huge eggs nestled in a cave. Thinking they’re abandoned, he gathers them up and decides to raise them on his own. The hatchlings turn out to be tiny dinosaurs, a species that’s supposed to be extinct—facts Sid is too dim and too sweet to let faze him. When Dino-Mommy comes to reclaim her brood, Sid gives chase, following them into a lush, underground rainforest where the dinosaurs have been thriving all along. Manny, Ellie and friends reluctantly tag along on Sid’s search. They enlist the services of a one-eyed, mentally unstable weasel named Buck (Simon Pegg) to lead them into the depths of this lost land, to help Sid reunite with his little big ones.
Following the family film paradigm set by Toy Story and Shrek, Dawn of the Dinosaurs combines buoyant cartoon action with witty humor aimed at the parents who have guided their kids to the theaters. The mammoths and tigers and sloths make knowing quips about therapy and baby-proofing and playdates, and the movie offers a wide range of clever cultural references to everything from “The Flintstones” to Dante’s Inferno. Directors Carlos Saldanha and Mike Thurmeier focus as much on the physicality of the comedy as on the scripting, and the subtle expressions and crack comic timing evoke the joys of some of the old-school Warner Bros. shorts. The voice work is a bit uneven. As Manny, Romano is supposed to be exasperated, but here he just sounds tired, and Queen Latifah never quite gets her timing right. On the other hand, Leguizamo does a great job of conveying Sid’s touching, eager foolishness. (The lisping voice seems to have been at least partly inspired by his impression of the sweet and dopey kid brother from Leguizamo’s one-man Broadway memoir.) Pegg, fast becoming the most reliable British comedian of our age, is also fantastic as Buck, the unhinged outdoorsman whose reveries make for some good absurdist comedy.
The best bits—and the ones most reminiscent of the cartoon classics—are reserved for Scrat, an unlucky squirrel still just trying to get a nut. This time around, a lovely lady squirrel called Scratté thwarts his efforts. She uses feminine wiles to yank the coveted acorn from his clutches, making their scenes smell sweetly of Pepe Le Pew and his love-hate exploits.
The action is mostly cartoony bonk and boom, with the requisite fights and falls and liberties taken with physics. The harshest of the slapstick involves a kick in the groin. There are plenty of close calls, and some segments might upset the little ones. Velociraptors hiss, sidle and snap, and T-Rexes growl, roar and charge—events made all the scarier in the film’s 3-D format (see more below). A couple of characters are swallowed and nearly digested by a swallowed by a huge T-Rex, and later a giant Venus flytrap—they make it out slimy but unharmed. We see treacherous lava floes and dino-skeletons in the underground caves. There are bits with snot here and gas there, all in good fun. Sid, hoping to provide milk for his adopted babies, attempts to sneakily milk a bison—whatever was under there made him realize the “she” was actually a “he”. Adventurer Buck carries a knife fashioned from a dinosaur tooth, but he mostly uses it as a tool rather than a weapon. There are three or four uses of the word “butt”, and one comment about a nipple; speaking of which, another sight gag involves Scrat getting an unplanned chest wax while wrestling with Scratté through a tar pit—do not try at home.
Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs is being presented in Digital 3-D. This makes for oohs and ahs—and also jumps and starts, depending on how scary the thing is that’s heading right at you. The glasses were a little less versatile than some others I’ve encountered, and I found them a little hard to keep on over my own spectacles. Since most shots contain at least some 3-D elements, watching without them is not an option.
No previews were available this week.
Jared Peterson lives in fear of the coming Humid Age. He last reviewed Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.