Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs
Since I became an uncle, I've come to regard the makers of Thomas and Friends and Cars as business geniuses. They know a captive market when they see one. I've seen firsthand the very powerful draw that trains, cars, and trucks have on little boys. It's absolutely amazing.
But trains and trucks weren't my thing as a kid. I was drawn to something else entirely: Dinosaurs. So, when Ice Age came out, I thought the franchise kind of shot itself in the foot by starting out with the extinction of these big draws—despite the fun it had with saber-toothed tigers and wooly mammoths.
Well, for the third film, the franchise doesn't let that little "extinction" thing get in the way of appealing to the dino-loving kids out there. Instead, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs proposes that when the ice age hit, it iced over a giant, hidden tropical world where dinosaurs still reign. Don't think too hard about the logic of how the dinosaurs could have survived. Or how the sun somehow shines in this iced-over tropical world. Or why the giant lava river wouldn't melt the ice layers above. The whole jungle-under-the-ice thing is just a device to put returning characters Manny, Diego, Ellie and Sid into a new playground full of adventure, danger (that's not too scary), and hijinks. Mission accomplished.
With more action than the other Ice Age films, a contagious spunk, and a new character who's cooler than a glacier, Dawn of the Dinosaurs is a joyful, energetic ride. And ride might be the operative word as this movie truly feels like an amusement park attraction, thanks to the very wise marriage of 3D with this action-packed journey through the center of the prehistoric Earth. The 3D is not used to have boulders fly at us or send spit water into our faces. Instead, it only brings the furry and scaled characters right up to our faces as we're put into the action. Sledding down a snowy mountain, flying through a lava cavern, and fighting raptors—they all come alive with Dawn of the Dinosaurs' very strong animation.
As the movie begins, the old Ice Age crew is in the midst of transition—and not an environmental one this time. (In fact, after the global warming of the last movie, The Meltdown, the Ice Age world is now pretty much just depicted as Colorado—lots of green covered with snow.) Instead of temperate changes, our favorite mammoth/tiger/sloth/possum herd is awaiting family changes. The first child of mammoths Manny (Ray Romano) and Ellie (Queen Latifah) is expected any day.
Following the trend set in The Meltdown, this movie does not contain much in the area of deeper themes, greater meaning, or teaching moments. The storytelling is far from Pixar levels. But still, this is a franchise built on a group of unlikely friends learning to do community, and so, those threads continue. Here, Manny is all worked up about his new family responsibilities, as saber-toothed tiger Diego (Denis Leary) is starting to feel too domesticated. He's basically the bachelor best friend of a guy starting to do the family thing. He needs to get out and feed his wild side. Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo), though, goes the opposite direction. He's like an only child dealing with the arrival of a new sibling. Sid feels lonely and decides he needs a family of his own. With tensions heating up between the three guys, Sid finds a new family: three large eggs left alone in a chasm under the ice. When they hatch, the adventure begins.