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Posted: July 08, 2009

Dave on film: In the frozen food department

Reviews of “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” and “Food, Inc.”

Dave Taylor

"Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs"

As with all good buddy films aimed at children, “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” (aka “Ice Age 3”) features a motley group of mammals during 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.

The gang includes a mastodon couple, Ellie (voiced by Queen Latifah) and Manny (the laconic Ray Romano), a saber-toothed 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 expecting a baby and that Diego is realizing he's getting older and can no longer outrace and catch a gazelle (hilariously voiced by Bill Hader). So he 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 soon-to-be-born child than on being one of the guys (certainly a classic theme for buddy films). He also wanders off, moping and wishing he could be a parent, too.

While wandering aimlessly, 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 decides he'll adopt them and hatch them as his own children. They hatch, but then Mom comes looking for them, 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 so common in children's stories.

Once they move into the cavern, they encounter Buck the weasel (voiced by the always entertaining Simon Pegg who recently did a career-boosting turn as Scotty in "Star Trek"). With a leaf eyepatch and a dinosaur-tooth saber, he's 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 with a number of chase scenes and a lot of 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.

"Food, Inc."


Be honest, now: Do you pay attention to the food you eat and are you aware of the journey it takes from field or pasture to your plate?  If you don't, you might be surprised at the consequences of large-scale factory farming and how it's changed what we eat and adversely impacted the quality and purity of our meals.

"Food, Inc." is a very political documentary with an axe to grind and a clear and overt bias against large-scale corporate agribusiness. The facts speak for themselves, and I already buy organic and local foods whenever possible, but unfortunately director Robert Kenner wasn't satisfied with letting the facts speak for themselves. What he's crafted is a piece of agitprop, a movie that takes itself very, very seriously and requires that you either do the same or constantly be asking "Ok, so what's the alternative?" as it proceeds for 94 minutes.

The film is based primarily on Michael Pollan's book “The Omnivore's Dilemma,” with additional material from Eric Schlosser's “Fast Food Nation.” Both are essentially investigations into modern farming in the vein of Upton Sinclair's book “The Jungle,” about the Chicago slaughterhouses of the early 1900s. Problem is, I've already read “Fast Food Nation” and was already familiar with the majority of the material in “Food, Inc.,” so it served as rather a boring and depressing polemic.

If you're not aware of the extreme challenge of farming and raising livestock for an ever-growing population even as arable farm land diminishes, you really should watch this film and get a quick education.

Where it's weakest, however, is where so many of these agitprop films break down: in offering up thoughtful, viable alternatives to the challenges faced by massive-scale food production.

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Dave Taylor has been watching movies for as long as he can remember. Along the way he’s become a nationally recognized expert on technology, an accomplished writer, and award-winning public speaker and blogger. You can find his film writing at  www.DaveOnFilm.com and follow his film commentary on Twitter at @FilmBuzz or just email him at taylor@intuitive.com.

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