MOVIE REVIEW- Getting colder: Third <i>Ice Age</i> no match for the first


The foolishness of wasting millions on celebrity voices for animated films (with occasional exceptions like Robin Williams in Aladdin) was demonstrated in the first two Ice Age movies. Sure, audiences loved the characters voiced by Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, and Queen Latifah; but their unanimous favorite was Scrat, a squirrel who never spoke. He was the best thing about Ice Age and the only good thing about Ice Age: The Meltdown.

Now comes Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, which is to the study of life on Earth what Year One is to the Book of Genesis. If Scrat doesn't stand out quite as much this time, it's probably because his shtick is getting as old as everyone else's.

Like a sweeps episode of a series, DoD revolves around the birth of a baby– in this case a baby mammoth to Manny (Romano) and Ellie (Latifah), who were hoping to save their species in the second movie.

There are three other births first, when three dinosaur eggs hatch under the guidance of their adoptive "mother"– Sid the Sloth (Leguizamo). Well, he was feeling envious of Manny's family when he fell into a cave and found the eggs, and it's finders keepers– at least until the real Dino Mama comes along.

Also feeling alienated from the chosen family they call a "herd" is Diego the Saber-tooth Tiger (Leary), who's losing his edge and can't catch defenseless animals the way he used to.

Soon, everyone is on the way to rescue Sid from his dinosaur captor, who has spared his life because her kids look on him like an uncle or something. From their own world, refrozen since the meltdown, the herd follows tracks to what looks like The Land before Time, populated with dinosaurs, pterodactyls and such– the "Ice Age" version of retro.

Their self-appointed guide to this lost world is a one-eyed weasel named Buck(minster) (Simon Pegg). He's the new guy in this movie, so he gets the best lines, some of them mildly suggestive ("I once turned a T. Rex into a T. Rexual") and others making a good case for not reviving vaudeville. Buck tells Sid's friends the dinosaur they're seeking isn't the biggest of her kind. That would be his nemesis, the fearsome Rudy, who was responsible for the loss of his other eye.

The struggle for survival is indicated without excessive violence in several action scenes that distract from mostly lame dialogue sequences. As for Scrat, for whom executive producer Chris Wedge provides the sounds, he's got his own subplot in mini-toons that occasionally cross paths with the main characters: Scrat finds a female with an acorn and can't decide which he desires most.

The squirrels do a mating dance or several to the tune of Lou Rawls' "You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine," while the prevailing theme of the rest of the movie is Queen Latifah's redo of the Was (Not Was) song "Walk the Dinosaur," which becomes almost as annoying as "Who Let the Dogs Out?"

The 3-D (in select theaters) is unexceptional, applied primarily to the main characters. The backgrounds, while they may be on a few planes, are mostly as flat as the jokes. There's not a lot of gimmickry. Most of the depth goes back from the screen rather than projecting out into the audience.

"Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" may be marginally better than the second part of the trilogy but is still no match for the first. With thousands of years left to cover, there's little hope that the bunk stops here, but we can hope they find writers with fresh ideas for Episode Four. This one's a pale shadow of what dino-might have been.