With his ping-pong ball eyes, outstretched nose, jittery movements and Wile E. Coyote luck, Scrat (half squirrel, half rat) is the real star of the Ice Age movies. Though a minor character, he managed to steal every scene he was in, both in the delightful first installment and Ice Age: The Meltdown, the unexceptional sequel. It seemed like this series had run out of steam, but I was surprised to discover new life in the third Ice Age, which is as fun and delightful for parents as it is for keiki.
As before, a group of offbeat creatures with celebrity voices roams through prehistoric landscapes and maintains a tight, unusual family unit. Ray Romano and Queen Latifah are an affectionate pair of Wooly mammoths, Denis Leary plays Diego the saber-toothed cat and John Leguizamo is Sid the sloth. The plot kicks off when Sid foolishly steals three large dinosaur eggs, declaring himself “a single mother,” while Latifah’s mammoth is ready to deliver a baby at any moment. A new character, Buck the one-eyed weasel, is a psychopath jungle guide voiced by Simon Pegg, whose contribution to this film is as richly funny as his work as Scotty in the new Star Trek film.
The frequent appearances by Scrat—and his female nemesis, Scrat’e—are highlights once again. But the story this time is strong and engaging enough that you actually forget he’s in the movie, instead of looking at your watch and waiting for his next unfortunate battle with obsessive acorn lust.
Many non-Pixar animated comedies allow pop culture gags to take over. This one never makes that mistake, though, given the title, we do get the inevitable conclusion of Was (Not Was)’s “Walk the Dinosaur” on the soundtrack, and lots of slime jokes that cater to the youngest in the audience. As in the previous entry, I wanted more of Leary’s Diego and less of Leguizamo’s Sid, a character who is best in small doses. I also didn’t care for Latifah declaring “Talk to the Trunk!”, a line too dumb to surface in a movie this clever. Romano has most of the best lines and whenever Buck or Scrat have center stage, the movie can do no wrong.
The action is exciting (see it in 3-D), particularly during one sequence that has, I’m not kidding, the best kissing scene of the year. There’s a thinly guised subtext about mixed families and how parenting is more about love and responsibility than being related or similar. It’s all gentle and heartfelt, but isn’t crammed down your throat.
This isn’t on the level of Up in terms of sophistication or profundity, but it is a cheerful, sly comedy for the whole family. MTW