Review: 3's [Almost] the Charm in Latest 'Ice Age' Entry


Everyone’s heard the old bromide “three’s the charm.” Fans of the Spider-Man movie franchise might think otherwise.

With the third installment of the Ice Age franchise, subtitled Dawn of the Dinosaurs, the truth is somewhere in between.

The strength of the first Ice Age was a fresh mix of a buddy movie and some serious homage to Looney Tunes directors like Bob Clampett, Tex Avery and Chuck Jones. There was solid chemistry between Manny the Mammoth (voiced by Ray Romano), Sid the Sloth (John Leguizamo,) and Diego the Sabretooth Tiger (Dennis Leary). The lines the three threw at each other still feel fresh, even though the film was released nearly a decade after the speaking parts were recorded.

To top it, they came up with a fairly solid plot revolving around Manny’s bitterness over the killing of his family and the human baby. The last scenes, where Manny gives the child back to its father, had some solid pathos in it, stuff we usually expect from the best of Pixar and/or Miyazaki.

As for Looney Toons? Just say “Scrat.” He is almost pure Chuck Jones, with some Pink Panther-Friz Freling for good measure... The segment with the Dodos was Clampett at his prime. The spirits of other Termite Terrace masters permeate throughout the whole film.

More important, director/producers Chris Wedge and cohort Carlos Saldanha managed to take all these disparate elements and come up with a cohesive whole. Ice Age deserved to be one of the top money making movies of 2002 (#9 for the year, according to Box Office Mojo).

As touched on in yesterday’s interview with Leguizamo, Ice Age 2: The Meltdown was, to put it nicely, a rush job. Part of the problem, like Dreamworks’ Shrek franchise, was the introduction of too many new characters. Yes, it was a good idea to find Manny a new mate in the form of Ellie (Queen Latifah). Yet were Crash and Eddie really necessary? Ellie trying to hang upside down from a tree also pushed the limits.

Also, each of the core three characters was given disparate story lines. Sid’s encounter with the other sloths was fine, but Manny and Diego’s were weak and Ellie acting like an opossum was just way too large a pill to swallow. Maybe a bit more time on the plot development and this could have been a better film.

That didn’t stop the fans though. Meltdown made even more money than the first Ice Age. Even have to be a Fox executive to know a third film was coming. It opens today.

Dawn of the Dinosaurs starts off with Manny and Ellie not only sticking together but, as it’s put nicely in the movie, in a family way. Diego must be the most insecure pre-historic big cat in creation, as he feels he’s losing his edge. All the while, Sid is feeling left out. He decides three humongous eggs he discovers—which he dubs Egbert, Shelly and Yoko—will become the seeds of his own family.

This leads to Sid discovering his own Pellucidar. True to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ creation, this underground world is a land of danger replete with its own dinosaurs. It won’t take long before Manny, Diego and company realize Sid is up to his neck in serious peril. So 2/3’s of the original team — plus Ellie, Crash and Eddie — must now go to the bowels of this prehistoric Hades to save their buddy from his own good intentions. Even more dangerous, the rescue team will soon need their own rescuing.

Relief is supplied by a blue-eyed hybrid of a weasel, Steve Irwin and Bruce Spence (the Gyro Captain from The Road Warrior) named Buck. As voiced by Simon Pegg, this character, for once, is a truly welcome addition to the film.

When all is said and done, while Dinosaurs doesn’t quite capture the magic of the original. At the same time it’s a far better movie than Meltdown. The latest Scrat side story, which involves the introduction of a female counterpart, gives the little rodent a whole new dimension to play with. Buck is a howl every time he shows up. Diego’s has also been given a lot more thought than the previous film, and actually has some solid moments. Most important, Ellie has now been properly mixed into the team. Latifah and Romano work off each other well, especially as Crash and Eddie are put more in the background as comic relief.

The only time the film lags is when it comes to Sid. Spending most of the time separated from the herd, he’s not given any moment that matches the incredible absurdity of the “Fire King” sequence in Meltdown. It’s a shame; too, as one can hear Leguizamo is now quite comfortable in the role and does have a real affection for his character. The material just isn’t quite up to what we expect.

As for the animation, the 3-D effects have their moments, but are still a bit flat. On the other hand, Blue Ridge has come up with an incredible palette of rich and eye-pleasing colors for the underground scenes, probably the best they’ve done to date. The sequence where Buck, Crash and Eddie ride these neon-hued pterodactyls to save Sid has some truly amazing eye candy. Another combat sequence, with Manny, Diego and Ellie also have some hair-raising moments.

In other words, after seeing this film if one does see Blue Ridge having the chops, tech and just plain craft as Pixar and Dreamworks, particularly when it comes to CGI, they need their eyes examined.

As Leguizamo notes in the movie, we should expect Fox/Blue Ridge to announce an Ice Age 4 tomorrow. Based on this film, that looks like a very good thing.

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