Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs
Directed by Carlos Saldanha
Studio: Twentieth Century-Fox
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 94 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English; 2.0 stereo surround French, Spanish
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish
MSRP: $ 29.98
Release Date: October 27, 2009
Review Date: November 6, 2009
The writers and production team for the Ice Age franchise have finally hit on a winning combination of slapstick silliness, action, and poignancy with Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs. Without the awesome wit of the Pixar brand pictures nor the animation expertise of either Pixar or Dreamworks, the Blue Sky animation studio has relied on star casting and a notable set of goofy albeit endearing characters to propel their Ice Age films to success. And it’s certainly worked. This film has become the highest grossing animated film worldwide of all time. That's a pretty neat trick to accomplish when you’ve got a basic story that borrows heavily from classic literature while making rather mincemeat of science in the process. Look on it as pure escapism, and with that in mind, there’s a lot to like with this third installment of the series.
With Ellie (Queen Latifah) and Manny (Ray Romano) happily awaiting the birth of their first child, the single members of their “herd” are feeling rather empty and out of place. Saber-toothed tiger Diego (Denis Leary) is simply thinking of leaving the area and his friends completely. Dim bulb sloth Sid (John Leguizamo) goes looking for his own family and finds it with some eggs buried deep within an ice cave. Upon hatching, they turn out to be three baby dinosaurs whose mother is none too happy with their abduction. Snatching them up (and Sid along with them), she heads back to the land from which she came, a civilization far underground which suggests Doyle’s The Lost World or Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth. Naturally fearful for Sid’s safety, his friends all go off looking for him little realizing that the new world is filled with creatures that make even the wooly mammoths seem like dwarf animals.
Writers Michael Berg, Peter Ackerman, Mike Reiss, and Yoni Brenner have stuffed the film with “party animals,” creatures for whom life is a complete joke and never to be taken seriously. They’re undoubtedly funny in their involvement with one another and the other animals (yes, Crash and Eddie, I’m talking about you), but a little of them goes a long way, especially since this third film continues with the alternating running story of eternally acorn-loving squirrel Scrat (Chris Wedge) who takes part in more Looney Tunes-inspired adventures with his beloved acorn abetted this time by a female antagonist who’s after the same nut. (To be fair, the animators have made a slight attempt to integrate Scrat's escapades with the main story.) With dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures of that age now a part of the story, there are lots of allusions to the Jurassic Park films trading in the too-easy familiarity of sight and sound for some cheap laughs and thrills. And for good measure, the writers have added a scene-stealing guide to the underworld, a rascally weasel named Buck (Simon Pegg). With the same jaunty air of Captain Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean films and Antonio Bandaras’ Puss ‘n Boots from the last Shrek films, Buck proceeds to steal the film from the rest of the characters.
The animators have constructed some beautifully paced sequences including a hilarious scene where Diego chases a gazelle (voiced to perfection by Bill Hader) and some gorgeous animation as when Sid approaches a lava waterfall. Because the movie was composed with a 3-D release in mind, there are a good many examples of items pointing out at the viewer, somewhat annoying when one is watching on a 2-D DVD. There is also too great a reliance on sarcasm as the primary laugh producer (especially for the Manny and Diego characters). Still with expert vocal work from Simon Pegg, John Leguizamo, and the team of Seann William Scott and Josh Peck, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs is a sure-fire fun time for a quick ninety minutes.
The film’s theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio is replicated to perfection here with anamorphic enhancement for widescreen televisions. Though lacking the incredible intricate detail of a Pixar film, the animation is still bold and beautiful with solid lines never pixilating and no hint of banding to mar the image quality. There is better than average detail to be seen in the fur of the mammoths and the rocks and wood of the countryside. Trees and snow are not given the attention to detail as other studios put into their animation, and color, while often bright and eye-catching, sometimes appears just a bit flat. The film has been divided into 20 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track makes superb use of the surround channels not only for a succession of pop and classical music standards by the likes of Lou Rawls and Khachaturian along with John Powell’s continuous original score but the really witty use of the surrounds for echoes in the ice cave, the pterodactyls flying overhead, and the screeching of the velociraptors as they attack. It’s a sound mix that has been well designed and executed to perfection.
The audio commentary features director Carlos Saldanha along with six other members of the production team. Even with seven people in the room talking, it’s a civilized conversation with much fact and opinion offered. After the twenty-five minute mark, there are some gaps and pauses in the talk, but they all express enormous pride in their work and in the strides they have made in their skill levels since the first film in the franchise.
“Marley Meets Purina Dog Chow” is a 32-second commercial for the famous dog food and for the currently available DVD and Blu-ray of Marley & Me.
There are trailers for Glee, Aliens in the Attic, Night in the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, and Flicka 2, among others.
(Reviewer’s note: Fox sent Home Theater Forum only the single disc DVD edition of the film for review, so apologies in advance for those who were curious about the bonus features in the 2-disc special edition or the Blu-ray release.)
3.5/5 (not an average)
The third time’s the charm for Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, an enjoyably nutty adventure comedy with characters the public has shown an obvious affinity for. It’s briskly paced, amusing, and well drawn, an obvious step forward for Blue Sky Studios.