Perhaps as a response to the scattered accusations of liberal lecturing leveled at the global warming-themed Ice Age: The Meltdown, this third entry in the animated kiddie series appears to be more, um, fair and balanced, with the promotion of prehistoric family values its only identifiable agenda. A yen for domestic life has broken out among the mammal residents of the ice valley, with woolly mammoth couple Manny and Ellie (Ray Romano and Queen Latifah) doting on a soon-to-arrive bundle of fur and mute, saber-toothed squirrel Scrat going gaga over an eyelash-batting girl squirrel who has designs on his prized acorn and joins him in an introductory tango-and-tussle set to Lou Rawls music—a sub-Pixar stab at transcendent silent comedy that gets reworked and repeated several times throughout the film, to diminishing results. Even Sid, the lisping, triangle-headed sloth voiced by John Leguizamo, gets in on the tribe’s domesticity wave, assuming parental custody of three suspiciously large, abandoned eggs, to his friends’ dismay.
When bobble-headed, plush toy-looking T-Rex babies eventually burst forth from the eggs, the mystery of their true parentage leads the entire gang (including a third-wheel tiger, Diego, whose meager contributions don’t justify a Denis Leary-sized paycheck) down through a crack in the ice floor, to a lost, unfrozen dino world below. There, they encounter the film’s reason for being: a delightfully swashbuckling little weasel named Buck, voiced by a trying-harder-than-required Simon Pegg. Half Col. Kurtz and half Capn’ Jack Sparrow, the jungle-touched Buck schools the frightened newbies on dinosaur survival techniques and guides them across a perilous bridge suspended over a chasm of laughing gas (don’t ask), while soliloquizing, Ahab-like, on a mythic white dinosaur named Rudy (!) who once robbed him of an eye, the hole now stylishly covered by a leaf patch.
Compared to Buck, the denizens of the Ice Age (they refer to it like it’s a place, not an epoch) seem as lively as stuffed animals, but the plot forces them to match Buck’s frantic pace. Snapping dinosaur jaws are evaded, sloshing lava pits are negotiated, and an impressively put-together pterodactyls-as-swooping-fighter-planes sequence is lovingly rendered in the film’s ubiquitous but otherwise useless 3D. Much credit goes to those craftsmen who went above the call of duty by adding in some visual razzle dazzle, as well as to the irrepressible Pegg, but the closing observation of one mammal to another, that “we should make this a regular thing,” still feels like wishful thinking.