Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Ice Age: The Meltdown

Title: Ice Age: The Meltdown (2006)
Dir: Carlos Saldanha
Tagline: Kiss Your Ice Goodbye.
Rating: *** out of 5 stars

For the Diamondback...

Remember how much fun you had watching Woody and Buzz Lightyear compete for favorite toy? Or that warm, fuzzy feeling you got when Nemo reunited with his dad? Well, address those thank you notes to Pixar Studios because you won’t find that quality anywhere else.

When it comes to computer-animated films, Pixar is undisputed ruler. And thanks to its recent merger with Disney, the animation studio is more powerful and more creative than ever. So I sometimes wonder why other companies even bother to throw their hat into the ring. No film has yet rivaled Pixar’s, but a few have actually come close.

With the Ice Age films, 20th Century Fox has attempted to claim a niche of its own. Strangely enough, the second film, Ice Age: The Meltdown, brings the studio much closer to that goal than the first movie. It is not especially original, but with funnier sight gags and better animation, the sequel is a marked improvement over its predecessor.

In Meltdown, the prehistoric animals face the end of their world as global warming begins to melt the ice. A conman - or technically, a con armadillo - named Fast Tony (voiced by Jay Leno) spreads the fear of a Doomsday flood in his attempts to peddle breathing devices and crude boats.

Manny (voice of Ray Romano), the wooly mammoth hero from the last film, dismisses the hype until he witnesses the impending Armageddon for himself. All that stands between them and a massive flood is a crumbling ice dam, so the animals migrate toward a Noah’s Ark-like vessel (actually a large piece of hollow tree).

Returning with Manny are Diego, the sabre-toothed tiger (Denis Leary) and Sid, the dopey sloth (John Leguizamo). The two voice actors, both comedians in life, provide some comic relief to balance Romano’s monotone mammoth.

Also returning is Scrat, the persistent squirrel from the film’s trailers, whose acorn-chasing antics continue against the backdrop of the melting ice dam. His short scenes make for funny intermissions, and recall old Wile E. Coyote cartoons.

As Manny grows depressed thinking he is the last of his species, he meets a female mammoth named Ellie, voiced by Queen Latifah. She thinks she is an opossum, having been raised with two hyper marsupials named Crash and Eddie (Seann William Scott and Josh Peck). Together, the six mammals make their way toward the “Ark” but inevitably encounter obstacles, including reptilian sea monsters, explosive geysers, and of course lots of water.

Ice Age: The Meltdown should have no problem amusing the little ones. All their favorite characters are back, and the two opossums are very funny additions. The movie packs some Shrek-like adult humor, such as a beaver who, seeing the ice dam crack, makes a face like Martin Lawrence and sasses, “Dam!”

Unfortunately, some of the film’s jokes are lifted directly from better movies. You might have seen the commercial where Scrat goes kung fu on some piranhas. And you might remember that same scene in The Lion King between Rafiki and some hyenas. Still, there are some genuinely funny sight gags, mostly courtesy of Scrat and the opossums.

There is also the occasional piece of witty dialogue. As the herd migrates toward safety, a gang of vultures flies overhead, making airport announcements like, “Please do not leave children unattended. All unattended children will be eaten.” However, these gems are few and far-between, since the film is obviously geared toward children for whom potty jokes and kicks to the crotch are comic gold.

The biggest pitfall of the movie is that its lead characters lack charm. They may amuse, but you just don’t fall in love with them. The budding love story between Manny and Ellie is completely uninteresting, as is a subplot involving Diego’s fear of water.

Depending on how much you read into the film, Meltdown has an interesting level of doom surrounding it. Obviously there is no Dr. Strangelove ending here, but the Doomsday theme is still pretty dark for a kid’s movie. And don’t forget the film’s implications of global warming and a Katrina-esque flood. Could Ice Age 2 be quietly taking shots at the Bush administration? Unlikely, but it’s an amusing thought for wandering minds.

Ice Age: The Meltdown cannot touch the work of Pixar, but it does prove superior to the first film. Between trash like Chicken Little and gold like Shrek falls a movie like this. If you are taking kids, it will keep them happy. For everyone else, it carries the entertainment value of a Looney Tunes re-run. You can decide if that’s good or bad.