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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs

What can I possibly say about Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs that I haven’t said about Ice Age or Ice Age 2: The Meltdown? It is more dino-licious? It contains 92% more humidity? Or should I just stick with the fact that it is the funniest of the series so far! I loved Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs from beginning to end, so much so that I saw it a second time the following day and still laughed at all the jokes and pratfalls even though I knew they were coming.

This time around all the usual gang is back and they each seem to be experiencing their own existential crises. Manny the Mammoth (voiced by Ray Romano; tv’s "Men of a Certain Age") is fretting about his impending fatherhood, or, more precisely, the actual birth of his offspring with mate Ellie (Queen Latifah; The Secret Life of Bees), who is less concerned about having the baby as she is about making sure their extended family remains together, including Saber-toothed Tiger Diego (Dennis Leary; tv’s “Rescue Me”), who is clearly disturbed about something. What Ellie doesn’t know is that Diego is losing his mojo; he isn’t able to run as fast as he used to and his prey is now making fun of him when he can’t catch and kill them. He’s humiliated, and feeling that with Manny and Ellie about to become parents so much is changing it is probably best for him to move along on his own.

Of course Sid the Sloth (John Leguzuimo; Rage) will hear none of this from his best pal Diego. He is determined to keep them together because he loves, loves, loves everybody, and if it wasn’t for that tricky “gay thing” and this being a kids’ movie and all, you just know Sid would be begging to be Diego’s bitch. Alas, it’s not to be, and instead Sid seeks out comfort by trying to become a mother (he has more gender issues than Chaz Bono!) to three unhatched dinosaur eggs, and it’s his unbridled love that accidently leads the rest of his herd on a mission to save him after he is scooped up by a rampaging Tyrannosaurus and carried off to a strange new world beneath the ice where our usual gang lives.

Here they are exposed to a bright jungle environment chock full of dinosaurs and danger, and, most importantly, a wonderful new character named Buck (Simon Pegg; Star Trek). He’s a cheeky weasel of a guy, who just happens to actually be a weasel, but a nice guy nonetheless, although he is crazier than a loon, though there are no loons around to compare him with, but, trust me, I know crazy, and Buck is definitely daft. He’s been living underground for far too long to even remember life above ground, and I can guarantee you he is meshugga. He reminds me of my Uncle Ralph. Ralph’s they type who goes to a funeral and if the widow sobs something like “Why him, why him?” Ralph would leap up and ask “Would you rather it was you?” Meshugga.

Buck's whole life is about hunting down that great white whale (of a Giganotosaurus) named ~ you thought I was going to say Moby Dick, didn’t you? ~ Nah, he’s dubbed his nemesis the even more frightening Rudy. Rudy took one of Buck’s eyes in a fight a long time back, so Buck has made it his life’s mission to torment the giant beastie ever since. This being an animated feature, and made for a family audience, you can rest assured that nobody is going to shed any blood around here even if things look pretty scary at times. Buck doesn’t want to actually kill Rudy, mind you. He just wants to bother him for the rest of his life. In other words, he wants to marry the guy. The tough part is dragging him to New England to do so.

For parents of the wee children, you may want to be prepared for the inevitable question about where babies come from because eventually (and inconveniently) Ellie does go into labor. For kids who have no idea about the process, this may be very confusing and misleading. Apparently birth involves squeezing a friend’s hand very hard once and then a beautifully groomed baby appears in your arms out of nowhere just in time for your husband to arrive and see the newborn smile and laugh. Of course that is exactly how my children were born, but I understand some tragically ill-fated other women undergo long periods of pain and their babies arrive covered in a gooey substance. How unfortunate for them.

This Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs cutely avoids labeling itself as Ice Age 3 for fear that people will think of it as a diminishing return on the original as sequels often are, but besides being shown in Real 3D, which does attach a “3” to the movie’s subtitle whether intended or not, the movie seems fresher and better paced than either of its prequels. The characters are better developed and the “episodes” with that nut-crazed squirrel Scrat (voiced by the director of the original Ice Age, Chris Wedge) are now fully-integrated with the larger story itself and this time around there’s even a love interest for the little guy, a foxy flying squirrel named Scratte (voiced by Karen Disher, an animator on Ice Age 2: The Meltdown).

Previously relegated to near background noise, opossum brothers Crash (Seann William Scott; Role Models) and Eddie (Josh Peck; Drillbit Taylor) have beefed up the yucks and are more than mere bit players. For the first time they appear to hold their own with the leads. As a matter of fact, by the end of the film, I was thinking that a spin-off series with the ferrets and crazy old Buck might be just the thing to get viewers through what could obviously be a long Ice Age. After all, who doesn’t enjoy finding a one-eyed weasel in the dark once in a while?

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