I'm a father of three pre-teen children, but when I go to see children's fare in the movie theater, I generally see it by myself. There are too many movies that are marketed as children's fare, but that I feel contains themes, language or situations that are inappropriate for my own children (like Land of the Lost, see my review for more details).
I am careful not to judge other parents for exposing their children to material I feel is not child-friendly, though I do make an exception for certain situations, like the chowderhead Dad who brought his 10yo son to see Saving Private Ryan. That bordered on child abuse, but that's another story.
Anyway, why this is significant is because after having seen the first two Ice Age films from Fox Animation, I felt that this third installment would be a good choice for my 9yo son's first film in the movie theater. You might find it a bit incredible that I'm a film critic yet haven't been bringing my son (or any of my children) to the theater, but there's too much dreck to make them suffer through, and as a reviewer and adult, I can easily slough off scary imagery or disturbing story lines, while my children are still innocent enough that a monster or exciting chase can be upsetting.
Watch your own children next time you take them to an exciting movie, by the way, and you may be surprised how they react and what frightens them, even though after the credits roll they'll be eager to say how exciting and fun the film was. It's not that being scared isn't a reasonable part of a movie -- heck, that's why we have horror and gore films! -- but that some kids can handle that a lot better than others.
The good news? While there were a few scenes that were intense, overall my son and I both really enjoyed Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs and I'll heartily recommend it to any families with other than the very youngest children.
As with all good buddy films aimed at children, Ice Age 3 features a motley group of mammals in what's ostensibly just after the dinosaurs have died off. The entire series is predicated on the coming of the ice age and the drastic changes it brings to the environment (as is also a theme in the dinosaur-centric Land Before Time animated children's series, actually).
The gang are a mastodon couple, Ellie (voiced by Queen Latifah) and Manny (the laconic Ray Romano), a sabertooth tiger Diego (Denis Leary), a goofball comic-relief sloth Sid (John Leguizamo) and the hilarious twin opossum boys Crash and Eddie (Seann William Scott and Josh Peck).
As the film opens we find out that Ellie is pregnant and expecting a baby any day and that Diego is finding he's getting old and cannot catch a Gazelle (hilariously voiced by Bill Hader) and so decides to leave the group and wander off on his own. Sid feels alienated by the change in Manny, who is much more focused on Ellie and his upcoming child than on being one of the guys (certainly a classic theme for buddy films) and he also wanders off, moping and wishing he could be a parent too.
Sid falls through the ground and finds what appear to be three huge abandoned eggs in an enormous cavern. Yes, they're dinosaur eggs, Tyrannosaurus Rex eggs, to be exact, and he unthinkingly decides he'll adopt them and hatch them as his own children. They hatch, but then mamma comes looking for them in one of a number of scary Stomping Dinosaur scenes, and when she takes the babies, she also grabs Sid and takes him back into the caverns.
Manny organizes a rescue party with Diego, Eddie and Crash, and Ellie refuses to stay home, even though she's due to have her baby at any moment. In fact, Latifah helps create a nice, strong female character that helps this film avoid the frequent sexism trap of children's stories: she's certainly a strong and capable mastodon in Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs.
Buck arguing with himself about how to proceed
Once they move into the cavern, they encounter Buck the weasel (voiced by the always entertaining Simon Pegg) who, with a leaf eyepatch and a dinosaur tooth saber, is the swashbuckling mammal answer to Captain Jack Sparrow of the Pirates of the Caribbean films. He's easily a highlight of the film and has some of the very best lines!
The film proceeds from there with a number of chase scenes and a lot of obstacles and challenges where the animals have to band together to overcome obstacles and face their fears to achieve the goal of their quest, saving Sid (and getting back out of the underground dinosaur world).
I laughed throughout this film and enjoyed it immensely. There were not only lots of great scenes and funny situations for children to enjoy, but there were also a number of lines and scenes thrown in for us adults too.
One of my favorites: the gang are trapped on a rock outcropping and Ellie suggests that the slide down the back of a slow-moving apatosaurus. As she slides down its back, she yells "Yabba dabba doooooooo!" Manny follows behind, crash lands, gets up, looks at her and says "Don't you ever yabba dabba do that again!"
I'll give this two solid thumbs up. It's fun, has a nice pace to it where it doesn't get boring or seem too long (running time is a short 87 minutes, good for kids), has lots of adult-targeted humor thrown in, and tells a nice tale. It also has a running theme of animals falling in love and acting nutty and an ongoing gag of them slamming into sheets of ice and being flattened, but it was all in fun, and never did it seem any of the main animals were hurt or genuinely in danger.
And, finally, my son? He thought it was "hilarious and really fun".