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If you've seen one 'Ice Age' ...

Do you know if you go see "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" without having seen the previous two "Ice Age" movies, it won't affect the movie-going experience whatsoever? That's what I did!

I was wondering whether I needed to sit through two volumes of prehistoric, computer-generated hijinks to be fully prepared for the latest installment.

But a few parents who saw the movies told me it wasn't necessarily a prerequisite. (If you're a parent, chances are you know both movies backward and forward, since it's likely the kids have played the DVDs ad nauseam since the crib.)

Truth be told, you don't have to remember much or know anything about the other movies to get "Dawn." It appears these "Ice Age" movies are like slippers: You can slide right in and wrap yourself in the snug, lightweight comfortability of it all.

"Dawn" has menschy woolly mammoth Manny (Ray Romano) awaiting the birth of his firstborn with fellow mammoth Ellie (Queen Latifah). While he's in cautious father-to-be mode, his friends, Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo) and saber-toothed tiger Diego (Denis Leary) are more like odd men out. Already feeling like an old fogy because he can't hunt down a deer, Diego is thinking about hitting the road. Sid feels so left out that he tries to be a nurturing parent when he stumbles on three eggs in a cavern, eggs of future T-Rex babies.

Then the babies' big, bad momma comes out of hiding to reclaim them, taking Sid as well. Manny, Diego, Ellie and sibling possums Crash and Eddie (Seann William Scott and Josh Peck) start a search party and find the underground world of dinosaurs these creatures came from. They meet Buck (Simon Pegg), an adventurous, humorously deranged weasel who acts as de facto wildlife guide.

Scrat the bug-eyed squirrel ends up underground along with the crew, doing flirtatious battle with a female squirrel over his treasured acorn.

The fact that Twentieth Century Fox has made a successful franchise of a computer-animated saga you can just jump into anytime is convenient and a bit disheartening.

As with many computer-animated features not made by Pixar, "Dawn" isn't about being challenging, emotionally charged or memorable. It's harmless, sentimental, pacifying entertainment (which can also be seen in digital 3-D - yippee!) for kids that will probably evaporate from their minds quickly. (Hence the repeat viewings on DVD.)

Also, like other non-Pixar kiddie flicks, "Dawn" amps up the entertainment quotient by tossing in a few anachronistic pop references (the filmmakers manage to wedge in an "Alvin and the Chipmunks" nod), some kid-friendly coarse humor and, of course, an endless supply of cute, lovable characters in cute, easy-to-swallow situations. (Even most of the dinosaurs look more cuddly than menacing.)

On the plus side, directors Carlos Saldanha (who directed the predecessors) and Mike Thurmeier manage to make "Dawn" consistently pleasing to the eye. ("Dawn" has a more colorful land of the lost than, well, "Land of the Lost.") And I do have to admit that I found Buck be the funniest part of the movie. Gamely voiced by British comedian Pegg, Buck appears to be a wild-eyed amalgam of Errol Flynn, Bear Grylls and Robert Shaw's Quint from "Jaws," with a little bit of Martin Sheen's Captain Willard from "Apocalypse Now" thrown in for spice. I wouldn't be surprised if Buck becomes such a breakout character that Fox spins him off into his own movie.

And there's a very good chance you won't have to see "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" first to appreciate that film either. But it wouldn't hurt.

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