Disney may have failed to warm the hearts of audiences during their trip to the Jurassic era with 'Dinosaur' in 1999, but a few years later 20th Century Fox and Blue Sky Studios entered the world of CGI animation by visiting another prehistoric period with much more successful results. Although 2002's 'Ice Age' doesn't quite match the quality of Pixar's films or certain DreamWorks projects such as 'Shrek,' its endearing characters, stylish animation, and simple yet inspiring story won over both children and adults alike.
The formula for the box office smash was repeated again in the 2006 follow-up, 'Ice Age: The Meltdown,' a coming-of-age yarn that not only did a terrific job expanding the universe set within the frozen tundra and its characters, but also cleverly managed to weave in a relevant environmental message.
'Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs' (2009) is the third chapter in the franchise, but unlike the previous two entries this one was met with a chillier response. While the same cast returns, the slick animation is on par with the rest of the series, and the movie certainly ups the ante in the action department, unfortunately the filmmakers seem to have lost their focus, veering away from producing touching tales that can appeal to all ages.
The movie begins with the herd in the middle of a midlife crisis. Manny the Mammoth (Ray Romano) is more neurotic than ever now that his mate Ellie (Queen Latifah) has a bun in the oven, and his paternal instinct has kicked into overprotective overdrive. Diego (Denis Leary) is starting to feel like a sabre-toothed outcast who's lost his predatory mojo, and thinks it may be time to leave the group to get it back. Jealous of the coming baby, Sid the Sloth (John Leguizamo) desperately wants his own family, but the others openly admit they don't think he has what it takes to be a parent. And even that spastic squirrel Scrat (Chris Wedge) is finding himself torn between his new lady love Scratte (Karen Disher) and the acorn of his dreams.
When the depressed Sid stumbles across a trio of enormous eggs, however, he decides to adopt them and prove to his friends once and for all that he can be a good father. Sid names them Eggbert, Shelly, and Yoko, but soon realizes that parenting is harder than expected, especially when the hatchlings turn out to be of the Tyrannosaurus Rex variety the next morning. As the baby dinosaurs wreak havoc in Manny's new playground and Sid tries to keep his kids under control, momma T-Rex eventually crashes the party to collect her young, snatching up Sid along with them. Now to save their friend, Manny, Diego, and the rest of the mammals will have to venture deep into a hidden jungle, a tropical lost world where they will face terrible dangers and learn the true meaning of family.
On the surface, 'Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs' has an interesting premise, and I actually kinda like how the dinosaur environment is introduced. Sure it doesn't make a whole lot of logical sense, but neither do many of the similar themes found in Jules Verne novels, and those are considered classics. Besides, this is an animated fantasy with a sloth that walks upright and speaks with a lisp, so I'm willing to be open-minded. But after taking us through the door of this lush new world, the producers only squander the potential, falling prey to a barrage of lame pop culture references. The nod to the Flintstones in particular feels forced and isn't funny both times we hear it (yes, we have to endure it twice), and inserting an 'Alvin and the Chipmunks' Christmas carol gag is totally out of place, as the word "Christmas" didn't exist thousands of years *before* Jesus was born. What I'm trying to say is that suspension of disbelief is one thing, but these are plain lazy attempts at a laugh that just wouldn't happen in a Pixar movie.
Fortunately, 'Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs' still has some shining comedic moments mainly due to a new character, an insane one-eyed Weasel named Buck (voiced by Simon Pegg of 'Shaun of the Dead' fame). Buck is a lively critter who is sort of a cross between Captain Jack Sparrow and Snake Plissken, and he assists our sub-zero heroes while on his own quest to get his revenge on the beast that took his eye. Some of his lines are absolutely hilarious, and he pretty much steals the show in every scene he's in.
Even though I found 'Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs' a little disappointing, overall it still isn't really an awful animated movie. Kids will undoubtedly love it, and Buck's crazy antics go a long way in making it entertaining for adults. It's just too bad the filmmakers dropped the snowball this time around in terms of the writing, which seems more watered down and geared toward youngsters than the previous two movies. But in the end, parents should find this one a safe diversion for their children that won't ruin the grown-ups' day.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs - 3D' arrives on Blu-ray 3D alongside 'Coraline - 3D' as exclusives in Panasonic's 3D Starter Kit. The kit is included with the purchase of Panasonic Viera 3DTV packages. The disc itself is a dual-layered BD-50 housed inside a standard blue keepcase, but since this edition is a promotional item, the Blu-ray casing lacks a UPC code. There aren't any forced trailers during start-up, though there is a bit of a delay and a few static screens while the disc loads. On the menu screen, clicking "play" will grant viewers the option to select either 2D or 3D playback. The disc is also reported to be region free, even though the back of the case only lists it as Region A.
'Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs - 3D' marks 20th Century Fox's first foray into the Blu-ray 3D market, with their 'Avatar - 3D' not too far behind. The studio is off to a great start, as the Full HD 3D 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 (1.85:1 aspect ratio) presentation on this exclusive release is an exceptional debut.
Digital animation usually excels on Blu-ray, and it's clear the trend will continue on the Blu-ray 3D format. Colors are bold and beautiful here in every possible way. The backgrounds are dominated by bright and clean whites during the snow-covered scenes, and the visuals really blossom when the herd takes their adventure to the hidden tropical paradise. The jungle foliage consists of practically every shade of green imaginable, while the flora and fauna display a wide range of lush and vibrant hues. A grove that is home to a garden of mauve pitcher plants and a variety of other colorful carnivorous plant life is a breathtaking sight to behold. Blacks are also incredibly deep and never hinder fine detailing in the shadows.
Speaking of which, the level of detail is outstanding. The textures of rocks, dinosaur scales, and especially the fur of the mammals all have superb definition. For instance, some hairs are clearly light and fluffy such as Diego's, while the coats of the mammoths' are heavy and coarse. The team of animators obviously took their time to make everything perfect and look as lifelike as possible.
It's the 3D elements, though, where this transfer truly shines. Depth is amazing and really gives off that sense of peering through a window. The bodies of the animals appear much fuller and the distance in the backdrops goes quite deep. The staggering of the trees spread far and wide and the mountainous cliffs sometimes seem endless. The 3D effects never seem to go overboard, either, so the handful of gimmicky type uses, such as when the squirrels are floating inside tar pit bubbles for a good example, are extremely well done and don't seem out of place. Ghosting does occur in a few instances, but it's such a minuscule amount it's hardly even worth mentioning. The only other quibble is some banding, but again this is something that is few and far between and likely won't be an issue for most viewers.
Suffice to say, this is a video presentation that delivers the goods on all fronts. The animation is crisp, colorful, and exquisitely detailed, and the three-dimensionality aspect definitely works wonders in boosting the overall viewing experience.
This 3D edition of 'Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs' includes a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 just like the 2D version on Blu-ray. Now the mix isn't bad by any means, but I do agree with Aaron that at times it can be a little underwhelming for a newer release.
As previously noted, this soundtrack is a front-heavy one. Aside from some mild score bleed to the rear speakers and the odd call of the wild, there really isn't a whole lot of surround activity here. Diego's heavy panting during a chase sequence is about the most strenuous workout the rears will get in the entire movie. The jungle especially seemed too quiet for a thriving ecosystem, so infusing it with more nature ambience could've really gone a long way.
On the plus side, dialogue reproduction is clean and nicely prioritized, so every spoken line is clear as a bell. The LFE channel is also fairly energetic throughout the movie. When mama T-Rex stomps through the land and begins knocking down trees in her path on her quest to find her young, the rumblings aren't subtle in the slightest for sure.
Like I said, though, what we have is a good track, there's just still a lot of room for improvement.
The Blu-ray 3D disc also includes a French DTS 5.1 mix, as well as Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks in Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Mandarin, Russian, and Swedish. There's also optional English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, Mandarin (Traditional), Norwegian, Russian, and Swedish subtitles.
This promotional edition of 'Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs - 3D' doesn't include any supplements whatsoever.
The 'Ice Age' franchise may not be able to compete with Pixar or even some of the DreamWorks Animation movies, but it's still a reliable source of light-hearted entertainment. Sure this third entry doesn't have the heart of the original film, but it's the most action-packed of the trilogy and the introduction of dinosaurs will surely keep children engaged, while adults could definitely be forced to sit through a lot worse. The exclusive Blu-ray 3D edition of 'Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs' boasts near demo-worthy 3D video and a decent audio track, however none of the supplements found on the 2D Blu-ray are carried over to this particular release. As such, most will probably want to hold out for a fully-loaded retail version, unless of course Panasonic is their preferred brand of choice.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.