Despite an explosion of bright and colorful pixilated mayhem in recent years that has made the animated genre a box office powerhouse to be reckoned with, this sub-zero family saga stands alone as the only franchise to potentially give Pixar and DreamWorks executives some sleepless nights. Yet while it continues to match the likes of Shrek stride for stride in terms of sequels and storyline, there is a sense here that perhaps the makeshift herd has migrated as far as it can and that tiny Blue Sky Studios should set their talented and capable sights on something new.

Returning co-writer/director Carlos Saldanha once again oversees matters for this third installment and the immediate familiarity of the characters is the movie’s virtue as well as its weakness. Almost as if they’ve never been away we as an audience fall right back in to their comfortable routine; Manny is still grouchy and noble, Elly is still sassy and flanked by the boundless energy of Crash and Eddie, Diego still a smartass, and Sid still inept and silly. Only, they have been away. In the meantime Pixar has raised the bar with Up and the likes of Coraline dazzled our imagination by adding just a hint of seductive darkness. But here on the tundra evolution seems to have passed our heroes by.

Taking his cues from the all-conquering big green ogre chronicles, Saldanha has at least attempted to mix it up a little, but it’s an oddly muted new direction. With Elly expecting Manny is freaking out – the pressures of fatherhood setting the old mammoth in a spin. It’s a natural progression, but the sight of Manny baby-proofing every tree in sight is likely to be met with head scratching from the kids. With all attention seemingly on the impending new arrival Diego is meanwhile suffering something of a mid-life crisis, which again is not something the under tens are likely to wrap their head around.

Even the franchise’s secret weapon Scrat the squirrel-rat seems to have been redrawn for couples. While his inept pursuit of the perfect nut was the undoubted highlight of the first two pictures, here he is saddled with a romantic subplot with a wily female that’s not unsuccessful in generating laughs, but one that never comes close to emulating the anarchic mayhem of his former glories. Thank goodness then for Sid the Sloth, who again manages to get himself into trouble by nabbing himself some dinosaur eggs before being nabbed himself by a none-too-pleased mommy T-Rex. Sid’s singular brand of good-natured klutzy catastrophe is again the film’s heart and soul, and the catalyst for another warm parable of getting by with a little help from your friends.

On a mission to rescue Sid from a subterranean jungle populated by all things prehistoric, our heroes run into a stroke of pure genius in the form of Simon Pegg’s wilderness weasel Buck, lost to madness and locked in an eternal battle with the baddest Dino on the block, Rudy. A bizarre blend of Snake Pliskin and Captain Jack Sparrow, Pegg’s swashbuckling survivalist Buck single handedly puts this film on his tiny back, injecting some vital energy and much welcome chaos into proceedings as he guides the gang through a series of blistering set pieces as they search out Sid.

So while the third time is certainly not the charm, the gang just about pull it off thanks to Buck’s mania, Sid’s silliness and the goodwill generated by the welcoming, familiar dynamic. But as far as a fourth outing is concerned, it might just be time for Blue Sky to get out while the going is good and look to new horizons going forward. Otherwise they run the risk of the ice suddenly starting to melt right underneath their feet.

Starring: Ray Romano, Queen Latifah, Denis Leary, John Leguizamo, Sean William Scott, Josh Peck, Karen Disher, Simon Pegg

Director: Carlos Saldanha

Runtime: 94 Minutes

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Rating: PG

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