After an uncertain sophomore effort, the ICE AGE franchise has bounced back, more or less, with its third installment. The message is the same, family arrives in the least expected of forms, and though one may love the other members of ones herd, one doesnt necessarily like them all of the time. The humor is gentle, the animation lovely, and the writing perfectly competent. The real accomplishment here, in fact the best reason for extending the saga, is the stroke of genius on someones part that has resulted in Scrat, until now the most minor, if vivid, of characters, being given his own subplot. He is again the hapless, scurrying mammal of the piece who engages in a struggle separate from the other characters, yet his, too, is a universal story of sorts, that of the Sysphian struggle to possess an acorn of prodigious proportions. In many ways, the rest of the film is just so much filler between those interludes wherein Scrat realizes that there is more to life than acquisition of a meal, though its a lesson fraught with its own perils. He learns about seduction, hormones, and the perils of manscaping.
The unlikely herd from the previous films is back and we pick up the story as wooly mammoths Ellie (Queen Latifah) and Manny (Ray Romano) are preparing for a blessed event. Ellie is fretting over whether her ankles are fat, Manny is attempting to childproof nature. Best pal, sabre-tooth tiger Diego (Dennis Leary), is coping with losing his racing edge and the proto-gazelles who like to rub in that fact with vicious taunting. Hes also worried about no longer fitting in the herd once the baby is born. Its a worry he shares with Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo), the least popular member of the herd, and the one most likely to react to this new development with the least amount of smarts. Said least manifests itself with Sid attempting to form his own family using three large eggs he finds in an ice cavern. Big eggs. Big eggs with an even larger mother looking for them. Even after they hatch, and Manny tells Sid for the umpteenth time to return the hatchlings, baby T-Rexs, to where he found them, Sid clings to the trio who have come to think of him as mom. Never mind that hes about the same size as they are, never mind that he tries to convince them that broccoli is better than fresh kill, and never mind that mom comes looking for her babies, snatches them back, and takes Sid along with them, possibly as a future travel snack, Sid has discovered motherhood.
This turn of events spurs the rest of the herd into action, even Crash and Eddie (Seann William Scott, Josh Peck), proto-possums who are convinced that Ellie is their sister. Off they go to a lost world where dinosaurs are inconveniently not extinct, where the terrain is inconveniently not flat, and where, even more inconveniently, their best hope of finding Sid and surviving at all is Buck (Simon Pegg), a weasel who has been underground just a little too long. Buck, and particularly Peggs ebulliently melodramatic voicing of him, is the other, only slightly lesser, excellent reason for a follow-up flick. His sojourn among the dinosaurs has cost him an eye, his sanity, and any sense of emotional restraint. Bucks bravado, Mannys dolorous pessimism, and Ellies buoyant determination make for a nicely balanced trio as they discover the chasm of doom, jungle of despair, lava falls, and very, very large insects.
That part of the story is perfectly if sweetly predictable. The dinosaurs are nicely realized, making ankylosaurs accurately distinct from the triceratops. They kill the time nicely between Scrats sequences, where his overpowering longing for food is diverted by Scrate, whose come-hither look and supple stance is more than Scrat can process. He does what he always does, twitch just a bit in one eye, and then plunge headlong into the chase. Alas, it takes a while for Scrate to warm up to him, the process of changing from competitor for food into as mate is a tricky one and one that Scrat is no more equipped for than he is for foraging. Their dance of longing and of survival of the fittest is a precis on the eternal battle of the sexes in Darwinian terms of a most piquant nature. Lust, betrayal, regret, passion, and a particularly excruciating bout of manscaping figure into a courtship of epic proportions. And one that resolves itself into a twist handled with elegance, wit, and a sense of inevitability.
ICE AGE 3: DAWN OF THE DINOSAURS is a heartwarming story that is more charming than surprising. The perils are perfunctory, but the schmaltz is dead serious with just the right dash of sass and without being overweening. Kids will love it, adults may find it uneven, but Scrat-tastic.