DVD Review: Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (2009) -- Double DVD "Scrat Pack"

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Celebrate Ice Age

AKA Ice Age 3; Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs

In 2008 and 2009 respectively, the most recent titles from Pixar Animation have taken viewers beyond the clouds in both Up and way past Buzz Lightyear’s “Infinity and Beyond,” with Pixar’s beloved Oscar winning odyssey about a lovesick garbage collecting robot named Wall-E. Despite this fact and aside from DreamWorks Animation Studios whose logo also celebrates Mark Twain-esque fishing on the moon, for more than ten years, the weather from those exact same animated clouds has grown increasingly sunny in the forecast of what is rapidly becoming one of Pixar’s biggest competitors.

For, just one year after they completed the most authentic and lovable Dr. Seuss adaptation with 2008’s entirely computer generated charmer Horton Hears a Who, the Oscar winning company returned to the franchise that’s nearly synonymous with their name by releasing the funniest installment to date in their wildly and internationally successful Ice Age series. Similar to the other two large animated studios, Fox’s Blue Sky Studios opted to embrace the popularity of 3-D in 2009.

Technically, Paramount and DreamWorks should’ve had the advantage for the trend with the earliest release date given to their effort Monsters vs. Aliens. Unfortunately, aside from Seth Rogen’s hilarious turn, some genuinely cool effects and the ease of their 3-D format on our eyes, the weak storyline relied far too heavily on 3-D as it no doubt suffers without those glasses at home and without the theatrical sensory experience.

However, rising to the challenge of delivering a work that could stand on its on regardless of whether or not it was being presented in 3-D, thankfully Pixar’s Up and Blue Sky’s Ice Age didn’t go for a B-movie extreme homage. Instead, the animators wisely stayed with the fundamentals that have always served their films the best in the past by ensuring that the script and characters were all first rate and we would feel invested in their plight regardless of how many dimensions we could see.

While Up earns the extra creativity edge for introducing us to something completely new and different in lieu of a sequel, in the end and for sheer viewing pleasure, laughter, adventure, thrills and stellar jokes, it’s actually Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs that I feel will be played the most often in family room disc-players. Essentially this is due to the fact that much like Wall-E, Pixar’s beautiful Up once again returned to a melancholic and pathos filled well from time to time.

And the result of this decision may make some reach for tissues out of sadness and concern for the elderly in our families as opposed to needing those same tissues for tears that spring up when you and viewers of all ages in your family laugh yourselves into a coughing fit via the introduction of Simon Pegg’s Ice Age character, Buck.

Obviously, this isn’t to discredit the gorgeous quality of the genuinely moving Up but more to acknowledge that Fox’s Blue Sky Studios just keeps dazzling us year after year to the point that Pixar, DreamWorks, and Blue Sky are now on the same playing field as America’s historic animated House of Mouse in Walt Disney Studios.

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However, before I continue on, I must confess that I did miss the theatrical press screening for the 3-D presentation of Ice Age 3 and the 2-disc “Scrat Pack” studio screener that Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment was kind enough to send my way was purely in 2-D so I’m unable to judge the original presentation. Yet I can state that even when presented without eye-popping 3-D effects and the fact that, due to Deluxe content protection services, the 2-D feature film was not quite as sharp as the finished result would be for sale in either the Blu-ray or DVD format, just like the studio screener of Horton, the transfer (even the press one) is extremely impressive with sharp contrasts between the characters and backgrounds and dynamite depth perception.

To test out both the feature film (disc one) and the Scrat short films and extra features filled second disc thoroughly, I compared both in a DVD player on a traditional television set and a Blu-ray upconvert player on an LCD HDTV. Needless to say, the upconvert was a vast improvement, especially where the feature film was concerned since it delivered the best cost effective 3-D like transfer of the movie minus the format in DVD.

Still those without HD will be pleased to know that a majority of the extra features (if not the theatrical level Scrat shorts) on the second disc didn’t look or sound incredibly different in the two tech set-ups, which you can take into consideration if you're pondering the various editions. While additionally the DVD was released in two distinct price ranges based on whether or not you want the Scrat Pack or just the film, similar to the most cost effective value combo packs that Walt Disney Studios have extended because of their success with consumers, Fox’s Blu-ray works the exact same way, by giving you all the extras and three versions of the film including Blu-ray, DVD, and a digital copy for your portable device.

And while I for one am still anxiously awaiting a combo pack that offers all three of the films and the shorts in one edition, the greatest and most welcome surprise about Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs was that Fox and Blue Sky Studios had actually managed to surpass the previous works including the fast-paced and unique 2002 title and the action over character misstep of 2006’s Ice Age 2: The Meltdown.

While aside from Roger Ebert who favored it to the point where it received three and a half out of four stars, critical reaction to the movie was mixed. Additionally the original work is still the best rated one of the trilogy on critical aggregate websites including Rotten Tomatoes and MetaCritic, with some journalists arguing it was far more like Dr. Seuss than the style established previously. However, I think the Seuss accusation was an easy and inarticulate blow in a similar vein to those who like to throw Shrek comparisons around every time they watch a film from DreamWorks.

As far as the purity charge went in addressing the visual style of Ice Age, in my mind, Dawn of the Dinosaurs moved the franchise in the right direction by-- as referenced in the Fox notes-- braving a “post-Jurassic Park” challenge of researching the era to “introduce species of dinosaurs new to motion pictures.” Furthermore, the animators remained true to the palette and groundwork established in the original 2002 movie but expanded upon the setting to utilize caves and other locations that made logical sense in developing a storyline that finds Manny, Sid, Diego and the rest “beneath the ice… into a world that they’re not equipped to handle.”

To this end, Dinosaurs follows the seasonal flow of 1’s evolution from “fall into winter,” 2’s move into spring which “presented environments where the ice was melting,” until this returns once again to “a more familiar environment [of] a vast frozen tundra introduced in the original film” to solidify the setting of the titular Ice Age.

Yet, even though Meltdown and Dinosaurs director Carlos Saldanha (also co-director on 1) and his co-helmer Michael Thurmeier described the third film as the most ambitious one yet since it “almost feels like a genre movie,” they were dedicated to balancing Ice Age’s tradition of “a smart, character-based comedy” with the desire to provide “an epic sweep and adventure that’s new.”

However, the movie begins in familiar terrain as we experience more mishaps of the squirrely rat or ratty squirrel Scrat who this time is challenged for his acorn by a beguiling beauty in a delightfully funny device that repeats later on. And soon, we catch up with the main trio and realize that Sid and Diego have started to feel left out by the upcoming birth of Manny and Ellie’s baby as Queen Latifah’s Ellie is far more balanced than her over-protective husband (Ray Romano) whom she accuses of trying to baby-proof nature. Yet before you begin to fear Ice Age is becoming a domestic family sitcom, it leads viewers on a thrilling Joseph Campbell rooted storyline that blended together Blue Sky named influences like Moby Dick and Simon Pegg cited ones including Indiana Jones, Sherlock Holmes, and Apocalypse Now.

Although Denis Leary’s Diego is ready to ditch his surroundings and go it alone, John Leguizamo’s Sid realizes he has a biological clock of his own which he foolishly decides to attempt to satisfy by taking care of three eggs in the hopes that after they hatch, he will then have a family of his own. Of course, when he fails to realize the eggs are extremely large and that perhaps it wasn’t a good idea to steal a mother’s unhatched young, Sid gets hit by reality in a scary way when his new children are born and it takes him a long while to realize they’re dinosaurs.

When the angry T-Rex arrives to claim her young, Sid doesn’t give up without a confrontation and after he’s taken along with the “babies” he wants visitation rights and custody of to continue raising them the way he’d hoped, the rest of the Ice Age crew goes on the search for Sid. Out of their element and with deadly carnivores lurking about, even Ray Romano’s Manny is outmatched so the group is pleased to receive help from an expert named Buck. Unfortunately, they soon realize that he may be an expert but that doesn't make him sane. Soon they uncover Simon Pegg's true nature as Buck is a mentally unbalanced, hermetic one eyed weasel who talks to rocks, fights with skeletons he feels are part of himself and leads them into the Chasm of Death because the phrase “Big Smelly Crack just made everyone laugh.”

Moving in and out of an accent that’s so hard to pin down that I didn’t realize it was Pegg until late in the film, Buck’s speech goes from posh London to Cockney to slightly Australian inflected at one point and Pegg’s screw-loose audio performance is easily the funniest character in the already lovable ensemble cast. Moreover, he reminds you what a comedian can do with the right animated part like Robin Williams as the genie in Walt Disney’s Aladdin, Dustin Hoffman in DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda, or Tom Hanks and Tim Allen’s characters in Pixar’s Toy Story.

Thoroughly entertaining, Ice Age has achieved that delicate balance to be the type of film that works for all generations of audience members. From the start, it infuses the characters and plotline with the thrilling adventure it needed to compete with summer movie season and appeal to the “what happens next” preference of its youngest viewers.

However, it’s doubly appealing since it incorporates the charm, warmth and humanity that was so effective in DreamWorks’ Madagascar movies and Pixar’s Finding Nemo which stems back to Walt Disney’s earliest storytelling model from the first animated feature film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (which coincidentally turned 70 this year). One of the best animated films of 2009 and the strongest entry into the Ice Age series, Dawn of the Dinosaurs also signifies the dawn of one of the most underrated and overlooked but creative animation studios working today that’s so versatile it contributed to grown up pop culture as well including Fight Club and The Sopranos.

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