Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (PG)
Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown
Do you remember how The Flintstones was really The Honeymooners, except as a prehistoric cartoon? Well, in a similar way, the Ice Age movies are sitcoms, except instead of a goofy guy married to an impossibly attractive, impossibly forgiving, and yet still endlessly nagging wife, it's a mammoth couple — along with a bachelor sabertooth tiger and a dimbulb sloth as the wacky neighbors.
This is how far cartoons have descended in the last decade and a half: The Lion King was Shakespearean. Ice Age is Everybody Loves Raymond-ean.
This time out, Manny the mammoth (voiced by Ray Romano) is about to be a dad. Of course, you don't even need to see the movie to know that he's going to overreact to having a baby, or to know that there will be jokes about females stressing out about gaining baby weight. "Do you think my ankles look fat?" asks Manny's pregnant partner Ellie (the voice of Queen Latifah). "What ankles?" he replies. (Cue laugh track. Cue groans.)
Complications ensue as Diego the tiger begins feeling left out of Manny's life. (Diego is voiced by Denis Leary, whose trademark snark is completely unused here.) Further complications ensue as Sid the sloth (the voice of John Leguizamo, whom I'd like to hear be this silly in a movie that deserves his talent), longs for parenthood and adopts three dinosaur eggs to love and raise as his own.
Say what? Dinosaur eggs? Have young-earth creationists taken over 20th Century Fox, trying to brainwash our children into believing that brontosaurs and woolly mammoths walked the earth together 6,000 years ago? Well, no: There's a perfectly acceptable fantasy explanation. It all has to do with a lost world under the ice, where giant reptiles escaped that big meteor and survived (although suspiciously without further evolution) for 64.5 million years.
Oddly, none of that bothers me as much as Momma T. rex, when she inevitably comes for her babies, not eating Sid the moment she encounters him. And that doesn't bother me as much as the jokes about body waxing, accidental penis pulling, and homophobia in what is supposed to be a children's film. And none of that bothers me as much as projecting sitcom-dad neuroses onto a cartoon mammoth: "Guys don't talk to other guys about guy problems," Manny explains patiently to Ellie, as if she hadn't been coping with his idiocy for years. "They just punch each other in the shoulder."
Still, there are bright spots. The Scrat, that sorta-squirrel, sorta-rat creature, who has eyes for nothing but acorns, finds a lady love this time around. Scratte has long eyelashes, blue eyeshadow, sexy fingers (sigh) and a killer instinct for acorn-gathering herself. But Simon Pegg brings the only inspired voice performance as Buck, a weasel gone slightly mad in his attempts to survive a realm of killer dinosaurs. He gets the best lines, too, as if the writers were tired of the existing characters and could manage to raise their flagging enthusiasm only with his fresh ferrety blood. Buck's hilarious, and in his own unique way, not as a worn-out cliché.
Which leaves me thinking, there are a couple things that we should let go extinct: the stereotypes of men as unemotional idiots and women as clueless nags who must be endured as a curse of the fates or as a given in sitcom marriages.