Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs is the third go-round for the trio of computer-animated prehistoric heroes, one that moves them into a new dimension, adding both 3D and dinosaurs to the mix.
Initially a comedy about an unlikely group of animal friends -- a wooly mammoth, a sabre-tooth tiger and a sloth -- the franchise expanded in the second installment, adding a female mammoth and her two friends, primordial possums, to the menagerie.
As this third episode begins, Manny the mammoth (voiced by Ray Romano) and his mate, Ellie (Queen Latifah), are expecting a baby. Diego the tiger (Denis Leary) feels as though he's losing his edge by hanging around such domesticated types; he can't even outrun antelope anymore. And Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo) worries about being left out when Manny and Ellie have their baby, while his urge to nurture goes unfulfilled.
When Sid stumbles across dinosaur eggs hidden in an ice cave, he adopts them as his own -- and then plays nursemaid to the trio of T. Rex babies that hatch. When their real mother comes to reclaim them, she snatches up Sid as well, presumably as a snack.
It's up to Manny, Diego and Ellie to rescue him from a hidden underground world where dinosaurs still roam. Their guide and protector, once they reach this lost jungle, is a crazed weasel named Buck (Simon Pegg), an eye-patch-wearing daredevil who hunts dinosaurs.
The first half of the film is about the give-and-take between the three principals, whose relationship seems too well-developed for them still to be having the same discussions: Sid, you're annoying and you smell bad, go away. Manny, don't be so grumpy. Diego, admit that you're a softie, not a killer. Granted, there's a whole new audience for this film, one too young to have seen the previous outings, but the routines still feel rusty at times. The writers and director Carlos Saldanha are lucky to have comics like Leary and Romano, who can make even weak lines sound funny.
Once they arrive at the lost world, it's all about the action (and slapstick), as opposed to the wisecracks and pratfalls of the film's first half. It's imaginative and even builds excitement, in a way that's suspenseful without being too scary for the smallest viewers.
One odd note about the animation: There are a surprising number of dialogue scenes with Manny and Ellie in which, because of the angle of their trunks, their mouths aren't visible. The eyes are the windows to the soul, but the mouth is an almost equally expressive instrument, so it seems strange to not see it.
As for the 3D -- this summer's most overhyped effect -- the film doesn't really need it nor utilize in the usual way, i.e., making you flinch when things look like they're about to come out of the screen and poke you in the eye. Though it adds depth and weight to the image, it's not as if it's a great leap forward -- just the gimmick of the moment.
Otherwise, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs is amusing and harmless -- a film that will amaze the under-10 crowd and keep their parents distracted (and, surprisingly often, entertained) as well.
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