Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs has been something of a guilty pleasure of mine since its release in 2009. It’s no great film by any stretch of the imagination, but why would it be? It was the third entry in a franchise that was only ever decent to begin with. On the plus side, it seems like Blue Sky Studios was aware that this was never a series that would rival the likes of Toy Story in terms of emotional depth, so they just went in the “fun” direction. Though it’s a flawed film, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs does succeed in being an enjoyable romp, and certainly a step up from the largely forgettable second entry in the series.
From the get-go, it’s obvious that Blue Sky Studios had stopped trying to make the Ice Age films into animated classics and doubled down on cartoonish silliness. This time, the animal heroes find themselves on an adventure through a subterranean realm where the dinosaurs never went extinct.
The film begins when Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo) finds three giant eggs in an underground cavern. Thinking the eggs were abandoned, Sid decides to take them as his own. It turns out these are tyrannosaurus eggs, and once they hatch, the babies start running amok among all the ice age creatures. That is until their mother shows up and takes the babies back to the underground dinosaur world. But the babies have grown fond of Sid, so the tyrannosaurus mother reluctantly takes him along as well. Sid’s mammoth friends Manny (Ray Ramano) and Ellie (Queen Latifah), along with Diego the sabertooth tiger (Denis Leary), and Ellie’s opossum brothers Crash and Eddie (Sean William Scott and Josh Peck), set out on a rescue mission to bring Sid home.
It’s as simple of a plot as it gets, but there are token attempts at bringing some added drama to the mix. Manny and Ellie are expecting a baby, Diego fears he’s lost his edge as a hunter, and of course Sid’s relationship with the baby dinosaurs. It’s silly and simple, and little more than a means to dress up what is a tried-and-true adventure story, but it’s fun.
As is the case with every Ice Age installment, there’s a running side story in the film about Scrat the squirrel chasing an ever-elusive acorn. Only this time, Scrat has some competition in the form of a female flying squirrel named Scratte, with the rivalry between the two squirrels developing into a romance.
The best part of the film, however, is a weasel named Buck (Simon Pegg), whose years spent in the dinosaur realm have left him a little cooky, and who serves as the groups’ escort in the dangerous dinosaur world.
Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs also has appropriately fun animation to compliment it all. It’s not among the most visually striking animated features, but the character designs are fun, with the dinosaurs in particular adding more variety and color into the mix, and the change in setting helping the film stand out among the other installments in the ongoing series.
It’s true, many of the problems with the series are still in full force here. Primarily, there are just too many characters for the short running time to know what to do with, and many of the character arcs feel tacked on and rushed because of it (this is especially true for Diego). But y’know, this is a movie about a couple of mammoths, a sabertooth tiger and a weasel trying to save a sloth from dinosaurs, with a squirrel romance thrown into the mix. It’s not exactly trying to tell a groundbreaking story.
In the end, Ice Age 3 is definitely Ice Age 3. But hey, it has fun action scenes, solid animation, is actually pretty funny at times, and is a pretty fun ride. If you’re looking for something more, look elsewhere. Though honestly, you could do a whole lot worse than Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs.