Fri, Jul 03, 2009 - Page 16 News List

FILM REVIEW: ‘Dawn of the Dinosaurs’ skates on thin ice

Scratte, Sid and company stumble onto a lost world of dinosaurs in the latest installment of the ‘Ice Age’ franchise

By Peter Hartlaub  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , SAN FRANCISCO

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If you’re a paleontologist, chances are good you’ve given up on movies altogether.

First, there was last year’s 10,000 BC, which suggested that woolly mammoths helped build the pyramids in Egypt. And now we have Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, a film that will lead children to believe that the Jurassic period came after mammoths and saber-toothed tigers walked the earth.

The animated family movie genre isn’t supposed to be documentary filmmaking. (Seen any helium-balloon-powered houses flying through the air lately?) But it’s harder to forgive a 140 million-year mistake when the finished product is mediocre. If the third Ice Age were a bit better, there would be little need to dwell on the inconsistencies.

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs will satisfy its young fan base and is bound to make a tonne of money. At this point, though, the series is no longer an artistic pursuit; it’s a business deal. It’s doubtful that the makers of the prehistoric adventure picture added dinosaurs because that story needed to be told — or even made sense in the context of the franchise. They did it because a T. rex looks good on the movie poster.

The film begins with mammoth Manny (voice by Ray Romano) and his pregnant wife Ellie (Queen Latifah) getting ready to settle down. This causes friction with Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo), who wants his own family, and Diego the sabertooth tiger (Denis Leary), who is dealing with unspecified aging issues. Sid finds some dinosaur eggs, and pretty soon the friends discover another world under the ice, which is bright and lush and filled with dinosaurs.

Of the group, Sid has the best story arc. His attempts to nurture three young tyrannosaurs are good for some entertaining physical comedy. Scratte also returns, this time with a love interest. The interludes in the first two films involving the rodent-like creature’s attempts to get a nut were always a nice homage to the classic Warner Bros cartoons; this time there’s a strong Pepe Le Pew vibe. (Scratte’s scenes also tend to look the best in 3-D.)

FILM NOTES: ICE AGE: DAWN OF THE DINOSAURS

DIRECTED BY: Carlos Saldanha and Mike Thurmeier

WITH THE VOICES OF: Eunice Cho (Diatryma Girl), Karen Disher (Scratte), Harrison Fahn (Glypto Boy), Maile Flanagan (Aardvark Mom), Jason Fricchione (Adult Molehog Male), Bill Hader (Gazelle)

RUNNING TIME: 94 MINUTES

TAIWAN RELEASE: Currently showing


But too much of the rest of the comedy is uninspired. With most of the characters from the first two films, plus a few new ones in the dinosaur world, there’s barely time to adequately explore anyone’s predictable conflicts. The last half of the movie is a constant state of characters getting rescued — there are rescues within the rescues — interrupted by the occasional slapstick bit or one-liner, too many of which seem to be genitalia-related.

“Let me tell you about the time that I used a clam shell to turn a T-Rex into a T-Rachel,” a weasel character declares in the middle of the film. That’s one of three penis-themed jokes that we counted — which is probably three penis jokes too many in a movie that doesn’t feature Harold and Kumar going to White Castle.

At least the weight-related humor involving elephants is kept to a minimum. Before her career ends, Queen Latifah deserves to be in at least one film where no one makes a single fat joke.

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