Animation studios have settled into a kind of sibling rivalry, with the sophisticated older brother (Disney/Pixar), the prankish middle child (DreamWorks) and Fox as the precocious toddler doing anything to be funny.
Fox's third entry in its Ice Age franchise, Dawn of the Dinosaurs, isn't meant for uplift or spoofing. It's just for laughs and provides plenty, in the time-honored tradition of Saturday morning Looney Tunes, to the point of ending with Scrat the prehistoric squirrel popping out of the screen to let folks know that's all.
This time, changing scenery serves the franchise well. Rather than sticking to the frigid Earth's surface — which was hardly interesting before — Dawn of the Dinosaurs plunges the Ice Age gang into a subterranean jungle way down below. Don't worry about how it can be so lush and sunlit to enable dino-life; the gags fly fast enough to make that a nitpicking afterthought.
The critters remain the same, with new issues: Manny and Ellie (voices of Ray Romano and Queen Latifah) are expecting a baby mammoth. That makes Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo) feel rejected. After tumbling through ice into the jungle, Sid finds three dinosaur eggs, adopting and naming them Eggbert, Shelly and Yolko (get it?). Diego the saber-toothed tiger (Denis Leary) worries about losing his predatory edge, but it will return when the T-rex mother comes looking for her babies.
New to the menagerie is a swashbuckling weasel named Buck (Simon Pegg) who almost steals the show with his bravado. I say "almost" because this Ice Age adventure again belongs to Scrat, who now has a rival for that acorn he chased through two movies, a seductive flying squirrel named Scratte. Their perilous wrangling and occasional romance becomes the Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner of this loony 'toon.
Dawn of the Dinosaurs is silly and skimpy, but it's just what families need since Up has almost run its course in theaters. It's also slightly rote, as the series became before the first movie ended. You'll probably be laughing too hard to notice.
Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.