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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Review: ICE AGE: DAWN OF THE DINOSAURS


Third time IS the charm.
As a small practically independent studio Blue Sky has learned a lot in the last few years. They began with Ice Age, an entertaining and somewhat whimsy film about friendship. It was a noble attempt but Toy Story, another “road film” about friendship it was not. Next they came up with Robots, which sadly was a step down from Ice Age. But last year they came up with Horton Hears a Who, which delivered genuine entertainment, was rendered beautifully, and did not shy away from deeper meaning. The whole family could enjoy it at an equal level. Ice Age: Dawn of The Dinosaurs s stands more or less at the same place Horton Hears a Who did, though a little less deep and a little more whimsy, but certainly above all the previous installments of the franchise. What makes this film so effective is that it knows what comedy is about and how animated worlds, such as those made by Disney in its earlier years and Pixar, work.


The key element in comedy, and most fiction, is the creation of unique characters that are precisely defined; to the point of caricature, yet they have understandable human desires even when the character is a ten-ton woolly mammoth. The prototype of such character was Voltaire’s Candid and that is why his name has become synonymous with comedy, satire, farce, innocence, simple-mindedness, and naiveness. Almost every character in Ice Age, from the acorn-loving saber-toothed squirrel to the nervous father-to-be woolly mammoth and the sloth that insists on adopting three baby t-rexes, fits this description.
But in animation the characters must be as important as the setting. Disney discovered this since the time the studio delivered Snow White and The Seven Dwarves. To create a sustainable world, capable of existing within its own reality, Disney filled the enchanted woods where the Dwarves inhabited with cute little creatures that physically express their personality. The mistake of almost every Disney imitator, and most of the recent Disney movies, is to replace physical expressiveness with distinctive clothes, eccentric hairstyles, wacky accents, or high self-reflexivity. Just look at every monster in Dreamwork’s Monster’s vs. Aliens as an example of what is not a good animated comedy character. Then look at Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs so you understand the difference.
Is this too lofty an introduction for a film about multi-species herd of Miocene mammals that venture into an underground world inhabited by dinosaurs after a sloth decides to adopt baby t-rexes? I won’t lie; this film is not deep and it probably does not deserve such introduction. But I thought it was the best way to explain why this film should not be discredited as the next gimmicky piece of s#?t delivered by a studio that does not care about quality. Blue Sky has proved it cares about quality although it still has much to learn.
The plot of Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs is straightforward: Sid, the chubby candid ground sloth, is disillusioned that his friend Manny, the serious block headed woolly mammoth, is forming a family and that he will never be able to start one since the only girl who will ever want him would be one with very low standards or no other option. To bring his hopes up Sid decides to adopt a trio baby t-rexes he found under the ice. Meanwhile Diego, the retired saber tooth that now lives amongst herbivores, is suffering from a middle age crisis and is in desperate need of a new adventure. When mommy T-rex comes looking for her babies, she takes Sid by mistake and drags him to a hollow earth inhabited by dinosaurs. In rescuing Sid, Diego has found a new adventure and Manny has placed his pregnant female in danger. In dino-land they find Buck, a stranded weasel with an eye patch in the hunt of the great white dinosaur. Buck acts as a guide and as a character he seems to be taken out directly of Sir Connan Doyle’s The Lost World, which this movie is clearly inspired by and steals many plot points from.
As for the look of the film; it looks nice, not beautiful as Up or Horton Hears a Who, simply nice. Very nice. But the 3D here is beyond any 3D experience you might have had. I originally saw it in 2D, and enjoyed it. Then I read the 3D was excellent. So yesterday I went to see it again. This time in 3D and I have to say the use of 3D in Ice Age surpasses what I saw in Coraline, and Bolt (I saw Up in 2D). One particular action scene during the climax in which Buck, flies a pterodactyl through a river of lava as he avoids the attacks of other pterodactyls. Is mind-blowingly awesome and puts many aviation war films to shame. Spending the extra 3 dollars (or 40 pesos in my case) for the 3D experience is defiantly worth it.
I originally intended to give the film a 3 for “decent”, mostly do to its lack of depth and because it is still not Pixar. But since I saw it twice and it proved to have not only genuine entertainment value but also a more-than-decent amount of replay value I am giving Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs a 4. I recommend it if you want to have a really good time.

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