My family has been a fan of the “Ice Age” movies since they first came out, but none of us think of the animated prehistoric adventures as educational. That would be dangerous, considering how blatantly the films have disregarded the basic timeline of evolution.

The movies, particularly 2009′s “Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs,” are riddled with scientific inaccuracies — and you don’t have to be an aspiring paleontologist to realize that. My 10-year-old son, who was 7 when ‘Ice Age 3′ came out, was very confused but certainly still entertained.

“In the third movie with the dinosaurs, it didn’t make sense. I felt it was weird that so many dinosaurs from different periods still showed up together with other animals that weren’t supposed to be alive at the same time,” he told me. “But it was still funny.”

How can movies so wrong, feel so right? Sony’s Blue Sky animators have created lovable characters that inspired a deeper interest in prehistoric animals. After watching each of the “Ice Age” movies, my children wanted to know more about wooly mammoth social structures, sloth behavior, and saber tooth anatomy.

They demanded trips to the natural history museum and asked Santa for figurines of mammoths and sabers. And as long as they weren’t clamoring for another Happy Meal toy, I was happy to indulge their interest in prehistoric life. So for that, I’m grateful to “Ice Age” for sparking conversation and research and endless hours of the BBC documentary “Walking with Dinosaurs.”

So to “Ice Age” naysayers, I say “lighten up.” The movies may not be scientifically correct, but they’re laugh-out-loud funny, spectacularly animated and well acted. Plus, they continuously instill the idea of family and tolerance and unconditional friendship.

In “Ice Age 4,” there’s even a tween-targeted story line focusing on teenage Peaches (Keke Palmer) who wants to fit in with the cool crowd of young mammoths, including heartthrob Ethan (Drake) and his “mean girl” pals Steffie (Nicki Minaj) and Katie (‘Glee’ star Heather Morris). To hang with them, the mammoths insist she drop her best friend Louis (Josh Gad), a neurotic but devoted little molehog. It’s a cautionary tale about the possible cost of wanting to be popular, and it obviously has everything to do with human adolescence, not Ice Age animal behavior.

While historical accuracy would be ideal, I don’t have a problem with exposing my kids to the “Ice Age” movies and using them to launch a real curiosity in natural history.

For a more educational look at prehistoric life, check out the following documentaries:

“Walking with Dinosaurs”: The award-winning BBC documentary uses computer-generated effects and animatronics to depict life in the Mesozoic era. The documentary was so popular it spawned a traveling live exhibition that tours the world giving kids a glimpse at 20 life-size dinosaur replicas.

“Little Ice Age: Big Chill”: Tweens and up should be ready for this History Channel documentary about the much less publicized but incredibly important Little Ice Age. There’s an online curriculum guide for ambitious parents who want to discuss the doc after watching it with their kids.

“Prehistoric America”: The six-part BBC-produced ‘Prehistoric’ series aired on shows which animals roamed American cities millions of years before they were urban metropolises. Even preschoolers will get a kick out of seeing dinos walking around Manhattan and Los Angeles.

“The Ice Age”: Can’t get enough of the Ice Age in your house? The BBC recently finished a three-part documentary specifically about the Ice Age that will air on the BBC in spring 2013 and on the Discovery Channel later next year.

“Ice Age 4: Continental Drift” hits theaters July 13.

More new movie releases 2011:

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