I haven't had so many laff-out-loud moments in a movie for a long time. There's about an even mix of verbal and visual gags in this 3rd installment of the Ice Age family saga, they're all fresh instead of hackneyed, and they all work. You wouldn't think a film set in the age of mammoths would be able to run a parody of the old "red wire vs. blue wire" time-bomb scenario, but they find an ingenious way to do it.
Now those among you who haven't fallen prey to creationism are well aware that mammoths are very large mammals (and hence quite recent in geological time), while the last of the dinosaurs went extinct 65,000,000 years ago. So how does the plot explain their coexistence? Well, it seems that there's this entire hidden tropical world underneath the eponymous ice, and our heroes literally fall into it. (Don't overthink it.)
Suddenly Manny the mammoth and his pregnant mate Ellie discover that they're not only not the largest creatures on Earth, as they'd thot, but actually pretty petite compared to the Mama T. Rex, who in turn has to look up to Dad. It's a classic tale of nature red in tooth and claw, except for nobody actually getting eaten. (Well, several critters are swallowed whole but subsequently disgorged, slimy with saliva but basically unhurt; family film, y'know.)
The animation is terrific. Judging from the end credits, apparently the Astor beaver trade, long thot to be extinct, has experienced a renaissance in the animated-fur factories of California. Dino babies and mammal kids are ridiculously endearing. The 3-D is likewise terrific, well used where appropriate (especially in conveying a sense of scale for the underworld) but not overdone. The one carp I have is that 3-D simply does not lend itself to dissolves between scenes; I'm guessing the filmmakers figured this out themselves, as most of the time they used cuts.
The characters, familiar now from the 2 previous films, are well acted with distinctive personalities, and the comic-relief possums have an expanded role. New to the cast is Scratte, a long-lashed female squirrel who, in a running subplot (including mini-cartoons to both start and end the flik), vies with the iconic acorn for the undying devotion of Scrat. As a devotee of the tango, I particularly appreciated their version of it. Also new is Buck, a bold, intrepid, 1-eyed buccaneer of a weasel, voiced by Simon Pegg with British accent in full flower.
Really, it's amazing to realize how much stuff they managed to cram into barely an hour and a half. Never a dull moment, never a missed step. Why, then, does it not get my top rating? Not at all because, as a comedy, it doesn't deserve to be taken seriously. After all, Dogma was a comedy, and it maxed out on my rating scale. But Ice Age 3 wasn't quite an entire story, more a collection of loosely related parts. Every one of those parts was well done, tho; indeed, I'd gladly take any of them over the entire 2.5 hours of the noxious Transformers; sadly, this much better film probably won't do nearly as well at the box office. Too bad.