ICE AGE: DAWN OF THE DINOSAURS (Carlos Saldanha and Mike Thurmeier, 2009)
When sitcom characters start getting married and having children, the developments often indicate that the creative wells in the writers' rooms are running dry. These warning signs are all over the ICE AGE series, which has now yielded two sequels, with more likely to come as long as the box office receipts, not worthwhile untold stories, warrant them.
The original 2002 animated film was pleasant enough as it followed the comedic exploits of prehistoric creatures during the glacial period, but it didn't suggest untapped tales about these characters. 2006's subpar follow-up ICE AGE: THE MELTDOWN introduced a spouse for woolly mammoth Manny (Ray Romano). As ICE AGE: DAWN OF THE DINOSAURS opens, Manny and his beloved Ellie (Queen Latifah) are waiting for the arrival of their first fuzzy bundle of joy, something which has the expectant pop in a tizzy to childproof the frozen landscape they call home.
The impending mammoth domesticity has other members of the multiple species herd feeling left out. Saber-toothed tiger Diego (Denis Leary) notices that he's losing his predatory edge and elects to strike out on his own. Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo) is mindful that he is experiencing some parental stirrings, but with no nearby female sloths to speak of, he must build a family by adopting three abandoned eggs he discovers underneath the ice.
When the eggs hatch, Sid becomes the dutiful caregiver to Tyrannosaurus rex triplets, but his happiness is shortlived when the displeased momma T. rex comes looking for her babies. She hauls off Sid and the kids to an underground land where some dinosaurs survived the global freeze. Loyal to a fault, Sid's friends venture on a rescue mission by journeying below the ice. There they fall under the leadership of the wily and possibly crazy weasel Buck (Simon Pegg).
Breaking up the main story is saber-toothed squirrel Scrat's never-ending pursuit of an acorn. The addition of the female Scratte for this third go-round presents competition and a love interest for the tireless forager. Scrat's wordless vignettes have been highlights of the previous ICE AGE films, and the nutty scenarios he gets into again are among the funniest parts of this one. Whether straining to be freed from the tar adhering him to a tree or bopping along in a bubble after that darn acorn, Scrat's scenes possess an unforced silliness missing in the primary story.
ICE AGE: DAWN OF THE DINOSAURS needs injections of cartoon merriment and orneriness to cure the blandness afflicting the plot and characters. Buck has his humorously unhinged moments, and Sid's sweet goofiness earns a smile here and there. Otherwise a great affinity with those in the herd isn't developed.
The animation is solid and features a couple nice action setpieces that probably look neat in 3-D--I saw the 2-D version--but what lingers is the predictability and indistinctiveness of it all. ICE AGE: DAWN OF THE DINOSAURS had to concoct an explanation for shoehorning the extinct reptiles into the timeline, so why limit the dinos' expressiveness to mere grunts and roars? It's just one of several signs that the film's modest creative hits and misses qualify it as an unremarkable, fitfully diverting effort than a mammoth letdown.
(Photo credit: Blue Sky Studios, TM and © Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.)