There's more action and cuddly creatures for kids to love in "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" than in the animated franchise's first two installments.
For their parents, it's more of the same, a "Yawn of the Dinosaurs" adventure with some new faces and places but the same central characters rehashing the themes of the first two movies.
The worn-out idea the filmmakers have yet another crack at: Families can be found objects, stitched together from all sorts of misfits who bond to form their own loving little clan.
The main thing that distinguishes this movie from its predecessors is the setting as the gang of prehistoric animals journeys underground to a lost world of dinosaurs.
Once again, the main players are Manny the woolly mammoth (voiced by Ray Romano), his wife, Ellie (Queen Latifah), Diego the saber-toothed tiger (Denis Leary) and Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo). Sibling possums Crash and Eddie (Seann William Scott and Josh Peck) also tag along again.
With Manny and Ellie expecting their first child, Diego strikes back out on his own, sensing he's lost his predator edge. Sid, feeling left out of Manny's family circle, adopts three huge eggs he stumbles on in a cavern, becoming surrogate mother to baby tyrannosaurs whose real mom comes to reclaim them, dragging the sloth back underground with her.
So Manny, Ellie, the possums and eventually Diego join up to rescue poor Sid.
This unlikely extended family gains an interesting new cousin in dementedly lovable Buck (Simon Pegg), a weasel who lost an eye to a ferocious dinosaur and has gone all Ahab in his quest to avenge himself on the beast.
Amid all the other yammering critters, Buck steals the movie, Pegg's lively, looney vocals combining with the character's lithe and limber movements to bring a freshness to his scenes that the rest of the movie lacks.
Even the antics of little Scrat fall flat this time. The rodent whose pursuit of an elusive nut was the highlight of the first movies are tired and strained here as the filmmakers have him alternately fighting and wooing a female counterpart also trying to secure that pesky acorn.
With the gang battling reptiles and Buck hurtling about like Douglas Fairbanks, "Dawn of the Dinosaurs" has a faster pulse than the earlier movies.
What you can say about the images presented by director Carlos Saldanha pretty much holds true for new installments in other computer-animated franchises. It's more detailed, textured and vibrant than the earlier "Ice Age" epochs because the technology and possibilities of computer-generation animation keep getting better.
The screenplay credited to four writers, including original "Ice Age" co-writers Michael Berg and Peter Ackerman, tosses off the occasional decent wisecrack that adults will appreciate (Manny's observation that he thought dinosaurs were extinct makes for a good chuckle coming from a mammoth whose species died out eons ago).
But the dialogue is mostly simple jawboning that doesn't provide many laughs. Unlike such wise, witty Pixar Animation tales as "Up" and "WALL-E," this one's strictly a slapstick tale for the young ones, who will ooh and aah over all the adorable beasties, new and old.
"Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs," a 20th Century Fox release, is rated PG for some mild rude humor and peril. Running time: 93 minutes. Two stars out of four.