Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs


Dino line dancing - the next big Hollywood trend.

Dino line dancing - the next big Hollywood trend.

(20th Century Fox) Starring the voices of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, Queen Latifah, Simon Pegg, Seann William Scott, Kirsten Wiig, Chris Wedge, Jane Lynch, Josh Peck, Bill Hader, Karen Disher. Directed by Carlos Saldanha and Mike Thurmeier.

For most of us, family isn’t the only thing – it’s everything. There are also all sorts of families, some not so readily apparent as others.

The Ice Age is in full swing and Ellie the Mammoth (Latifah) is expecting a child any day now. Her mate Manny (Romano) is of course as bumbling, moronic and well-intentioned as most cinematic expectant fathers. He builds a playground on which he has stuck snowballs to blunt the sharp branches on trees and beaks on birds. He goes into paroxysms of panic whenever Ellie has indigestion. Still, it’s a great time to be a mammoth. Everything is as it should be, with friends all around and Scrat (Wedge) chasing the ever-elusive acorns.

Still, not all is well in paradise. Diego the saber-toothed tiger (Leary) and Sid the sloth (Leguizamo) are feeling a bit left out. Diego, who is losing some of his predatory edge, having been outrun by a gazelle (Hader), decides to leave for greener pastures. Sid, being Sid, finds some strange eggs in an underground cavern and decides to adopt them as his own children. Scrat has discovered a rival, the seductive flying squirrel Scratte (Disher) who is maddeningly attractive.

Then the eggs hatch and instead of furry little mammals there are carnivorous reptiles – big ones. Think Tyrannosaurus Rex-sized. What’s worse, Mama Rex has come looking for her missing babies and is none-too-pleased to find them with warm-blooded types. She picks them up – and Sid too – and carries them back underground.

As annoying as Sid is, his friends decide to band up once again and go search for him in the cavern. Although Manny and Diego are skeptical as to Sid’s survival chances, Ellie and her entourage – Crash (Scott) and Eddie (Peck) the possums – are insistent, so down below they go.

They find a whole new world there, one of lush tropical vegetation, lava falls and lots and lots of dinosaurs. Some are friendly, some not so much. No time to wonder how this world got here or how it can sustain itself, they’ve got to find Sid. However, they need a guide to this world that is unfamiliar and dangerous. One is provided in Buck (Pegg), a one-eyed weasel (make of that what you will) who has spent years tracking down the gigantic white dinosaur who took his eye. Ahab, meet Moby Dick.

I will say this about Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs – the animation is superb, keeping the cartoon-like qualities that satisfy the kids but keeping it real to satisfy their parents. Strangely, though, the performances are a bit flat. There’s no sense of fun and wonder that made the first two Ice Age movies so entertaining. Instead, you get the feeling that this was rushed through for the sole purpose of filling a spot on the Fox release schedule and making the big bucks that the first two did.

There is also a lot more of Scrat and his new partner here. Scrat has become more popular in many ways than the main characters of the story are. They use him for the trailers as well as the advertisements. Scrat, as in the first two movies, almost never interacts with the main characters. While his sequences are among the best and funniest in the movie, they seem almost like commercial interruptions and I suppose in a way they are. Gotta sell that Scrat merch, after all. Still, I’ve always loved the Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote cartoons and the Scrat sequences are a lot like that.

This is very kid-friendly in every way with all that implies. When stacked up against the Pixar and DreamWorks movies, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaur doesn’t compare very favorably. Still in all, it’s a pleasant if unchallenging 90 minutes of summertime fun, and the kids are going to want to see it regardless of whether you do or not. Accordingly, make plans to buy this for the tykes if you intend to have any peace in your household over the next few months. Don’t forget the toys, action figures and video games that are sure to be demanded in the wake of the movie.

REASONS TO GO: Extremely well-animated. Nothing here is all that offensive, and the Scrat sequences are hysterical at times.

REASONS TO STAY: Kind of boring, kind of bland.

FAMILY VALUES: Perfect summertime entertainment for bored kids – not so much for their parents.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Buck character was based not on Crocodile Dundee so much, but on Frank Buck, a legendary hunter and adventurer whose exploits inspired the TV series “Bring ‘em Back Alive.”

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: The Expanded 2-Disc DVD and Blu-Ray editions include the Scrat Pack, a collection of every Scrat short ever made, some of which are included on DVD editions of the first two films. There are also a couple of Ice Age games. Surprisingly, the DVD is presented in 2D whereas it was released theatrically in 3D. That’s a shame, because the 3D presentation was one of the best of recent years.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Amelia

Where the Wild Things Are


Even a Wild Thing needs a chilldown after a wild rumpus.

Even a Wild Thing needs a chilldown after a wild rumpus.

(Warner Brothers) Max Records, Catherine Keener, James Gandolfini (voice), Catherine O’Hara (voice), Forrest Whitaker (voice), Lauren Ambrose (voice), Chris Cooper (voice), Mark Ruffalo, Paul Dano (voice), Pepita Emmerichs. Directed by Spike Jonze

In all of us there is a wild side. It is the side that defies authority, the part of us that breaks the rules and the part of us that acts out when we don’t get what we want. It is the part in us that is closest to the child in us, so it is no surprise that children are more cognizant of their wild thing than we are.

Max (Records) is a young boy being raised by a single mother (Keener) who is too busy working to have the time for him he would like her to have. He doesn’t have many friends, and his sister (Emmerichs) is older, moving into teenager things and having even less time than his mom does.

He has a vivid imagination, turning a snowdrift into an igloo and old toilet paper dispensers into fantastic skyscrapers. However, he has had difficulty adjusting to a life without his dad and when his mom starts dating a new boyfriend (Ruffalo) he has a nuclear meltdown and runs away.

He finds a small boat and navigates it out to see. After a day and a night he arrives at a strange island with a rocky shoreline as dusk is falling. He is attracted by flickering torches and is startled to discover a group of strange, shaggy creatures, one of whom is in the process of destroying their huts. His name is Carol (Gandolfini) and he is distraught because one of their number has left the family. Max reveals himself and Carol takes to him immediately as a kindred spirit.

Not all the others are so welcoming. Judith (O’Hara) is described as a bit of a downer, and that’s accurate enough – she is suspicious of Max and wants to eat him. However, when Max reveals himself to be a king in his own country, the others (even Judith) relents and accept Max as their new king, the Wild Things being without a king at the time. Max declares a wild rumpus and the commotion attracts the attention of KW (Ambrose) who also instantly takes a liking to Max. Max, for his part, has found the family he’s always wanted.

That family also includes Ira (Whitaker), a gentle giant who is in love with Judith and is also nearly as fond of making holes in things; Douglas (Cooper), Carol’s best friend and right hand, Alexander (Dano) who is consistently ignored by the others and the Bull, who mostly communicates in grunts. Max decides to have them build a fort where only the things they want to have happen occur. He gets the idea when Carol shows him his secret spot on the island where he has built a model city out of twigs, complete with canals and figures of his family members.

At first building the fort gives them purpose but as time goes on Max begins to realize that being King of the Wild Things isn’t as easy as it first appeared and that his more aggressive nature was causing some of his new family pain.

There is no doubt that Spike Jonze has an incredible imagination, and he may well have been the perfect choice to bring the classic children’s story by Maurice Sendak to life. Visually, this is very imaginative, unlike any movie you’ve ever seen. The faces of the Wild Things are amazing, CGI representations of the actors who are voicing them given a Wild Thing treatment. These CGI faces are then digitally inserted onto actors wearing oversized costumes, creating a natural movement that no computer could have replicated.

Records is a pretty decent actor as children go in a part that is not a typical kids part. For one thing, Max doesn’t have all the answers – in fact, he has far more questions than answers. He isn’t smarter than the grown-ups around him and he doesn’t save the day. Basically, he’s an unruly boy with emotional issues.

Therein lies my problem with the movie. Max is never accountable for his actions; when he bites his mother, she screams at him that he’s out of control and he screams back that it isn’t his fault. Well, whose fault is it then?

More egregiously, the movie diverges from the book on some key points. Now, while I’m usually fine about movies being different from the books they’re based on, one of the key elements of Where the Wild Things Are (the book) is that it all takes place inside Max’s room, literally inside his head. Here, the Wild Thing Island is literally an island that Max travels to.

The ending of the movie isn’t terribly realistic either. When Max arrives home after (presumably) running away for several days, his mother greets him with dinner and chocolate cake for desert. I don’t know about your mom but mine would have hugged me and then killed me had I run away like that.

This is such a visually arresting movie that it’s worth seeing just on that basis. There are some terrific performances, particularly from Gandolfini who captures the blustery Carol’s mood swings and inner pain. I do have a problem with the movie’s message, which seems to be that it is okay to give in to the Wild Thing inside and there will be no consequences, no repercussions. Lots of kids will be seeing this and get the message that acting out is ok, whether that’s the message the filmmakers (and Sendak) wanted to send or not.

We all have wild things inside of us. It is a part of us, as is the part that is responsible and caring for each other. The Wild Things tend to be the side of us that is selfish and undisciplined, necessary for our creative sides to come out but at the end of the day, merely a component of our psyches. Sendak always meant the Wild Things of his book to be elements of Max’ personality, and they are here as well; the important thing is that the Wild Things are not the Only Things. As for the movie, it’s flawed but I applaud the effort, the imagination and the visual sense. It’s certainly worth your attention.

REASONS TO GO: Jonze amazing visual sense makes this a treat for the imagination. It is, after all, the filmed version of one of the most beloved children’s books of all time.

REASONS TO STAY: The movie veers away from the book in some significant ways. Max is so troubled that at times it’s hard to watch him act out. There are almost no lessons in accountability and the ending is far more of a fantasy than the rest of the movie.

FAMILY VALUES: A little bit of language and violence, as well as some kid-in-jeopardy scenes but all in all suitable for the entire family.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The original songs in the movie were written and performed by Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, who was dating Jonze at the time of the production. They’ve since broken up.

HOME OR THEATER: This should be seen on the big screen, no question.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Six Days of Darkness begins!