Saturday, May 8, 2010

Movie: Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs

It's been eight years since the first Ice Age movie came along and reminded us that good CG films didn't necessarily have to come from Pixar or Dreamworks. That first entry in the series had a lot going for it - distinct characters, clever writing, a simple road map for a plot that wasn't dull. Personally I wasn't a huge fan of the sequel, mostly because I never took to the new characters. Queen Latifah's female mammoth was OK, but the possum brothers were mostly annoying. For the third movie, only one new character is introduced (and retains all the previous ones), so the focus is mostly on the story.

The story centers on the changing dynamics of the mismatched herd consisting of Manny, Diego, Sid, Ellie, Crash and Eddie. Manny and Ellie are expecting, and Sid and Diego feel somewhat left out. Diego is also coping with the loss of his youthful energy, a side story that gets lost in the shuffle pretty quickly. Sid's answer to being a "third wheel" is to find a new family, a quest which takes an unfortunate turn when he discovers three over-sized eggs on ice beneath the ground. They soon hatch, revealing them to be dinosaur eggs - Tyrannosaurus Rex eggs, no less. When the babies' mother shows up to claim them from Sid, he gets snatched up along with them and taken to parts unknown. It's up to the rest of the herd to track him down while navigating their way through a newly discovered world beneath their own, with the help of a weasel named Buck (Simon Pegg).

Depending on how you look at it, the story is really quite thin; Sid gets sloth-napped, and the rest of the group has to save him. One could also say that Finding Nemo was about virtually the same thing, so it's important here to focus, as usual, on the character arcs. That may be the weakest link in this movie. The whole thing just feels tired and worn out, like we've seen this all before. These guys fight, they make up, everyone goes home happy. Diego's role in this movie seems massively reduced, which is a shame because it wastes Denis Leary's comic talents. The first act is mostly about Sid, and the rest is pretty ensemble-centric, but as mentioned before, the side story about Diego losing his edge drops off a cliff and then comes roaring back at the end, with a sort of half-baked resolution.

There are a few scenes that had me laughing out loud, which I think is a hallmark of all the Ice Age movies. There are always some really clever jokes (similar to the Shrek series, for me) to be found. However, I was surprised at how "adult" some of the jokes were in this one. Usually in a "family" film, the jokes can vary a little bit, or have a double meaning, or be visually silly to kids. Here, there is a joke about trying to milk a male cow, with Sid calling, "I thought you were a female!" as he runs away from a wildebeest-type animal. That's something I saw in a Farrelly Brothers movie once.

Visually, of course, everything looks beautiful. I actually take it for granted these days that a CG movie of average budget will look awesome, so I wasn't paying that much attention to the environment. The dinosaur world was, however, quite stunning. Some research was obviously done into dinosaur models, as the variety on display was impressive, if a little creatively licensed. I'm still not sure why an Anklyosaur, an herbivore, was chasing other animals.

It's not a bad movie, I'm just not sure it offers up much of anything we haven't already seen. Except a LOT of Scrat scenes. They really went all out with him in this one.