If you have a passing familiarity with science and prehistory, you might well wonder what kind of crazy mixed up revisionist monkey business the creators of Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs are getting up to. Dinosaurs in the Ice Age? Coexisting with mammals? Sure, why not? If you can accept talking mammoths and sloths palling around with sabertooth tigers, why have a problem with Paleolithic-Jurassic mashups? Anyway, prehistory is not what your kids will be asking about after they see Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs. They're going to have some questions about families, and childbirth, more likely, because the movie is all about the many ways that families are formed, and the bonds that hold them together.
They're wacky families, of course. In this third Ice Age movie, woolly mammoth Manny (voiced by Ray Romano) and his baby mama mammoth Ellie (Queen Latifah) are expecting a little bundle of woolly joy. The other members of their quirky "herd," Diego the sabertooth tiger (Denis Leary), Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo), and possums Crash and Eddie (Seann William Scott and Josh Peck) anxiously await the new arrival. When Sid finds some dinosaur eggs in an underground ice cave, he becomes a single "mother" (in his own words) to a brood of cute little T. rexes. And then he gets kidnapped by fierce Mom T. rex, occasioning a rescue operation that takes his pals to a subterranean Jurassic world occupied by lots of dinosaurs and one crazy weasel named Buck (Simon Pegg), whose nemesis is a terrifying white T. rex known as Rudy. Meanwhile, Scrat the hapless squirrel still hunts that elusive acorn (his own white whale, of sorts) and finds himself in a wordless love-hate relationship with a duplicitous but foxy lady squirrel.
Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs is the first of the Ice Age movies to get the 3-D treatment, and the animators at Blue Sky have done a nice job of it, using the technology to add depth and texture to the animation. (According to my six year old companion, taking the 3-D glasses off during the scary bits of the movie -- which makes everything kinda fuzzy -- makes them less scary, which is an added benefit of the technology.) The movie boasts some terrific action sequences involving hot lava, zooming pterodactyls, chompy raptors, and prehistoric bobsledding, and also a lot of laughs, both for the kids (fart jokes, gooey slime) and for their elders (refs to Jaws, Moby Dick, The Flintstones and the complexities of romance). It's just the sort of shenanigans you'd expect from a bunch of goofy mammals lost in a Jurassic park.
The Ice Age gang, as it has always been, is composed primarily of single male critters whose yearning for familial bonds and comforts is expressed in different ways. Sid, the goofy, googly-eyed sloth, embraces the role of very nontraditional surrogate mom with gusto, and he's both an adopter and an adoptee in his unusual interspecies family. Ellie and mother T. rex represent the fuzzy and savage dimensions of motherhood, and moms as both protectors and cuddlers-in-chief. Manny's got the traditional overprotective father role, and the rest of the gang serve as honorary uncles in a story that embraces the "it takes a herd" approach to childrearing. In other words, there's plenty of cute and cuddly to go with the ferocious and frantic, and between all the 3-D enhanced falling off of cliffs and dodging of rampaging raptors, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs offers up characters and a story with depth and dimension too.