Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs -- Film Review

Pretty much any sign of creative life gets left out in the cold in "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs," the monotonous, strictly by-the-numbers third edition of the wildly lucrative digitally animated franchise.

Stringing together a series of bits in the absence of inspired storytelling, the picture, though technically assured, offers audiences very little that's fresh or different aside from 3D glasses.

Given the success of the first two films (released during the spring breaks of 2002 and 2006), there's no doubt "IA3" will draw families looking to fill the gap between "Up" and the July 24 arrival of Disney's "G-Force," but taking into consideration that more crowded marketplace, this one should expect scaled-down returns.

Where "Up" took to the skies both literally and figuratively, "Ice Age" goes in the other direction, set primarily in a subterranean world situated beneath the icy tundra.

Ray Romano returns as the sardonic voice of Manny the woolly mammoth, and he's trying paternal instinct on for size since his wife, Ellie (Queen Latifah), is very much in the family way.

That situation doesn't sit well with Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo again provides the lateral lisp), who, fearing there won't be any room for him in the new dynamic, decides to create his own family, making off with several enormous eggs he discovers in an underground cavern.

But when they hatch into a trio of rambunctious baby dinos, it isn't long before their birth mom -- a mighty displeased T-Rex -- goes on the rampage, turning Manny's world order upside down.

Despite the Jurassic perk, returning director Carlos Saldanha, co-director Michael Thurmeier and a herd of writers -- including founding scribes Michael Berg and Peter Ackerman along with longtime "Simpsons" writer Mike Reiss and newcomer Yoni Brenner -- manage to bring precious little in the way of charm or inventiveness to the generic plotting.

It's content to rely on the inherent affability of its core voice cast, also including returnees Denis Leary as saber-toothed Diego and Seann William Scott and Josh Peck as nutty possums Crash and Eddie.

There's also the incoming Buck, a swashbuckling one-eyed weasel (Simon Pegg channeling Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow by way of Captain Ahab), but like the hapless, acorn-chasing Scrat (Chris Wedge), who this time has been provided with a female foil (Karen Disher), there's a lot of dashing around without accomplishing much of anything.

Blue Sky Studios' digital animation is again technologically state-of-the-art, and the 3D, while unspectacular, is sharply vivid. But in relation to some of its recent competition, the rest of "Ice Age" feels frozen in another place in time.

Opens: Wednesday, July 1 (Fox)
Production: 20th Century Fox Animation, Blue Sky Studios
Voices: Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, Simon Pegg, Queen Latifah
Director: Carlos Saldanha
Screenwriters: Michael Berg, Peter Ackerman, Mike Reiss, Yoni Brenner
Executive producer: Chris Wedge
Producers: Lori Forte, John C. Donkin
Music: John Powell
Editor: Harry Hitner
Rating: PG, 87 minutes