The ICE AGE films represent 20th Century Fox’s attempt to cash in on the lucrative computer-animated family fantasy film market. As such, they are reasonably successful in terms of box office, if occasionally problematic in terms of storytelling, relying on CGI sight gags and the voice cast to pull the movies over any narrative humps.
ICE AGE tells the story of an unlikely “herd” — a group of mismatched animals that band together and bond for the common good. The simple story runs a predictable course (even the savage saber-toothed tiger has a change of heart and turns into a good guy by the conclusion), but the film feels stitched together from separate bits and pieces (no surprise when you consider the number of writers who worked on the project).
In fact, the film feels as if it was made by people who excelled at short subjects but did not have a grasp of quite how to tell a feature-length story. Sometimes, the scenes feel like isolated set pieces used to show off the computer imagery, which isn’t always as stunning as intended.
Fortunately, the characters are reasonably endearing, and the gags are funny. For brief moments, the film even works up some real feeling, as when the film’s mammoth, Manny (Roy Romano), who is perhaps the last of his species, contemplates some glyphs that remind him of the death of his family at the hands of human hunters.
Not surprisingly, the highlight of the film turns out to be the character least integral to the “plot” — that is, Scrat, the inarticulate squirrel rat (whose grunts are vocalized by co-director Chris Wedge). After accidentally precipitating the titular ice age, the creature’s apparently eternal quest for a beloved chestnut, which is intercut throughout the movie, plays like a series of classic cartoon short subjects, the brief interludes generating as much laughter as the entire remainder of the film.
ICE AGE: THE MELTDOWN is a considerable improvement over its predecessor. With the back story already established, and the herd of characters firmly in place, the script is unburdened with the baggage that weighed down ICE AGE and free to launch into a new story. As the title suggests, the problem is prehistoric global warming which threatens to flood that land when the ice melts. The story thus becomes a trek to safety — a safe linear narrative line that allows for the introduction of new characters and the occasional jaunt down some tangent for the sake of a good joke.
This time, Manny meets a female mammoth (voiced by Queen Latifah), who thinks she is a possum. A pair of water-dwelling predators replace Diego the saber-tooth as the continuing threat (one of these has a head that suspiciously resembles the pet crocodiles from Disney’s THE RESCUERS). And Sid the lisping sloth meets up with some others who worship him as a god — before trying to sacrifice him into a volcano!
Less episodic than ICE AGE, the sequel moves along more smoothly, and the new characters fit in well, including a rude pair of real possums who manage to shift from annoying to endearing without any hokey sentiment.
As before, the formula includes lots of anachronistic jokes (i.e., giving us an ice-age version of sights and sounds familiar to 21st century viewers), and there is an over-reliance on slapstick: the main storyline works best when the humor is verbal and character-oriented; the cartoony physical comedy should be reserved for Scat’s sequences.
The CGI is variable. Some scenes and backgrounds are astounding; at other times a flatness creeps in, betraying the computer origins. The animation sometimes comes up short when the characters are expected to emote — Diego, in particular, seems stiff and robotic whenever he’s not leaping or running. Fortunately, this is balanced by some good action. The predator attacks have nice JAWS-y feel to them, and there is wonderful underwater sequence near the end, with Manny trying to free his trapped girlfriend and fend off carnivorous attackers.
As before, Scat (again voiced by Chris Wedge, who this time did not direct) steals the show. Not only does he again precipitate the problem afflicting the rest of the cast (his quest for the acorn causes the first leak in the melting ice flow), he also undergoes a near-death experience that leads to his version of heaven, which (you guessed it) is filled with nuts. His quest — and his ingenuity and perseverance in the face of so many obstacles — is the stuff of great screen comedy, and it’s nice to see it sandwiched smoothly into the film as a whole. But one also wishes that the filmmakers would give the character more of a chance to stand on his own. He probably could not carry a feature film on his scrawny shoulders, but his scenes her prove once again that he could sustain a series of short subjects (such as the one that preceded 2004’s ROBOTS).
ICE AGE(2002). Directed by Chiris Wedge, Carlos Saldanha. Written by Michael Berg and Michale J. Wilson and Peter Ackerman, from a story by Wilson; additional story by James Bresnahan, Galen T. Chu, Doug Compton, Xeth Feinberg; Jeff Siergey, Mike Thurmeier. Voices: Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, Goran Fisnjic, Jack Black, Cedric the Entertainer, Stephen Root
ICE AGE: THE MELTDOWN(2006). Directed by Carlos Saldanha. Written by Peter Gaulke and Gerry Swallow. Voices: Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, Seann William Scott, Josh Peck, Queen Latifah, Will Arnett, Jay Leno
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