The animated comedy Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs is the eighth movie Hollywood has released this year in 3-D. By the end of 2009, there will have been 13 films for which audiences will have worn special polarized glasses, compared with just one in 2003 — and none at all in the decade before that.
The 3-D revolution is really and truly with us, in other words — so without pretending we're going into too much depth, let's have a look at three dimensions of the latest Ice Age iteration that really matter:
Dimension One: Characters. Start with Scrat, that single-minded saber-toothed squirrel, still sniffing and snuffling in search of his beloved acorn.
As always, he finds it, and as always, something keeps him from enjoying it — in this case a squirrel-fatale who's every bit as acorn-crazed as he is. At first they have a Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote-type relationship, but her hold over him becomes progressively more domestic until he's a henpecked hubby, rearranging the furniture in their love nest while gazing longingly at the acorn from afar.
Also back for another round: woolly mammoths Manny and Ellie (voiced by Ray Romano and Queen Latifah), who have a mini-mammoth on the way. That happy expectation means their hapless little chosen family of ice-age misfits — Diego (Denis Leary), a saber-toothed tiger who's learned not to eat his buddies, and Sid (John Leguizamo), a sloth whose mental ice tray is a couple of cubes short — are feeling left out.
Which brings us to Dimension Two: Plot. When Sid falls through a hole in the ice into a warmer, center-of-the-Earth-style world, he finds three enormous eggs and decides to use them to start a family of his own. Alas, their biological parent — a T. rex — isn't pleased, and she spirits the hatchlings and Sid down to her world, whereupon adventures ensue.
Some of those scrapes involve a swashbuckling weasel, who I'm afraid I left out in Dimension One. Which is no small oversight, because he's voiced by Simon Pegg as a cross between Errol Flynn and Johnny Depp at his Jack Sparrow-est. As the lone resident mammal in the otherwise reptilian world under the ice — he apparently fell through long ago and got acclimated — he more or less takes over the second half of the picture.
And so we arrive at Dimension Three: How does the Ice Age message — basically, "Can't we all just work past our differences and get along?" — translate to 3-D?
Well, it certainly plays out with more visual depth, though the animators don't insist on shoving things into your lap every three seconds.
Don't get me wrong: When pterodactyls fly over your shoulder, it's plenty persuasive, but the effect is becoming natural enough that I actually forgot for much of the picture that I was wearing glasses. Dimensions One and Two — characters and plot — are primary here, as they should be, technical wizardry notwithstanding.
In fact, unlike say, Monsters Vs. Aliens, which would have been nothing at all without its special-effects spectacle, this is a sweet little comedy, both family-friendly and centered on a nontraditional family, and so suitable for pretty much everyone.
Everyone, that is, who can get past the not-really-minor, probably inescapable fact that come next fall, elementary-school teachers everywhere will face classes full of kids absolutely convinced that an ice age marked the dawn of the dinosaurs.
They'll have seen it at the movies, after all — and in lifelike 3-D, too.