Aside from story quality, characterization, artistic reach, and a near-perfect batting average, the biggest difference between Pixar and all other pretenders to the CG throne is the lack of full blown franchising. Sure, there's a Toy Story 2 (and another on the way), and a sequel to Cars is also in the planning. But that's peanuts compared to Dreamworks, which is working on Shrek number four, and Fox, who've found startling success with the coldly calculated Ice Age series. Desperate to avoid the sameness that stained the first return to this frozen tundra territory, this unnecessary installment finds the material running out of steam and relying on that most questionable of kiddie content -- the dinosaur. Article continues below
Sloth Sid (John Leguizamo) feels left out of the birth plans of mammoths Manny (Ray Romano) and Ellie (Queen Latifah). So when he stumbles upon an underground cave and a collection of giant eggs, he decides to raise them as his own, Sid soon discovers a trio of baby T-Rexes -- and the angry mother who wants them back. Taken to a massive underground world where the formerly extinct reptiles still roam freely, our goofy mammal needs all the help he can get. Aide eventually comes in the form of Manny, Ellie, saber-tooth tiger Diego (Denis Leary), possums Crash (Seann William Scott) and Eddie (Josh Peck), and the newest member of the makeshift herd, diminutive daredevil weasel Buck (Simon Pegg). As they traverse the many dangers of this unfamiliar place, they must remain constantly vigilant of the arriving mammoth child... and the numerous beasts who want to eat them all.
Far more adventure driven than outright comedic, the third Ice Age film is like The Lost World on lithium. It's all movie safe 3D derring-do and cloyingly cutesy skrat love. In between bon mots about parenthood, Leguizamo's lisp, and the introduction of Pegg as a routinely charming Ricky Gervais-esque rodent, there's just way to much dinosaur diversion. Fans of the first two films really enjoyed the byplay between Romano and the others, their attempted humor occasionally coming up with something worth a snicker. But this time around, with the evil title reptiles constantly on snack patrol, there is barely time for a giggle. One moment, Diego and Manny are having a heart-to-heart. The next they're battling day-glo raptors who want to make a pregnant Ellie their midday meal.
Primary director Carlos Saldanha (also on hand for the first two films) really understands these characters, and he keeps the noxious pop culture riffing to a minimum. He also focuses more on the supporting players, including charming frat dude possums Crash and Eddie. But when four credited screenwriters can't come up with a continuous string of laughs, you sense they must be mining something else -- and that's where the danger comes in. While Ice Age and Meltdown both had elements of hazard, there is some real menace here. Parents may indeed be wary of taking their child to see a film in which favored characters are constantly threatened by lava, carnivorous plants, and the ever-present incisors of drooling dinos.
It does seem odd for a concept that gives voices to almost all the animals around to avoid giving the foul-tempered fossils personality. The Mama T-Rex gets a moment or two of maternal compassion, but for the most part, it's nothing but straightforward silent villains for our angry lot. And the genial nature of the other films is also missing, replaced by too much spectacle and slapstick. As an ongoing enterprise, the studio seems to have tapped Ice Age for a last time. While entertaining, this series is definitely ready for extinction.