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Ice Age: The Meltdown

™ & ©2006, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp.
Scrat (Chris Wedge) in ICE AGE: THE MELTDOWN.
Photo credit: Blue Sky Studios. ™ & ©2006, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp.

So someone figured out that sequels are inherently displeasing to the mind. Thus, we have not “Ice Age 2,” but “Ice Age: The Meltdown.” I can just imagine the umpteen meetings or memos that transpired to execute the change… but, seriously, let’s talk about the content.

Manny (Ray Romano), Diego (Denis Leary) and Sid (John Leguizamo) return for another go. The general format’s the same: They must go from point A to point B, and along the way will discover how to overcome their respective fears and/or insecurities. Manny fears extinction, Diego abhors water, and Sid has no confidence in himself.

Naturally, Diego’s fear is going to be addressed directly. After a brief opening with the recurring comic relief, Scrat, attempting to make way with an acorn, we find the familiar trio residing around what resembles a sort of water park. All manner of creatures swim and play in the water, unaware of the impending glacial meltdown.

There’s a wheeling-dealing character, Fast Tony (Jay Leno), whose self-interested doomsaying (he’s arguably the first to corner the market in underwater breathing apparatuses) turns out to be correct—much to his own surprise. All the animals must make it to a “boat” far on the other side of nowhere, of course. Any left behind will get picked off by the greedy vultures that keep watch from above.

There are wisecracks to be had, for sure, but the real story for adults and children here is the cameraderie between Manny, Diego and Sid. It’s not a particularly unforeseeable event that Manny will find himself taken with the newly introduced female wooly mammoth, Ellie (Queen Latifah), who incidentally believes she’s a possum—sibling to Eddie (Seann William Scott) and Crash (Josh Peck).

Some crises must occur, of course, to add a bit of catharsis to the journey. The perils to befall them include breaking ice floes, bursting geysers and a couple of bizarre monsters tracking them from the nearby icy waters.

There’s an entertaining side-plot in which Sid regains his confidence when abducted by a group of miniature sloths who worship him. You see, Sid, a sloth, happens to have discovered fire. Naturally, the first thing that comes to the minds of Sid’s followers is to sacrifice him in the volcano, on the assumption that he’s a god—he’ll live. I won’t spoil how Sid escapes, but this experience does renew his confidence.

Diego must choose between the survival of his friends and his fear of water. Manny has the most complicated of challenges ahead: Family. He has to decide whether his family is there with Ellie and the group, or elsewhere. He believes that he and Ellie are the last of their kind. So, as they say, it’s now or never. No, no, no. Come on… It’s a kid’s film. The plot isn’t going there.

Most of the children’s films I’ve seen have been horribly formulaic, this one less formulaic than most. However, despite it’s structural similarities to animated films past, the characters make an effective impression on parents and kids. It’s hard not to like the awkward charm of Sid, or admire the fact that Denis Leary can go an entire movie without smoking or swearing. Ray Romano, while generally annoying, seems to have a different effect in the body of a mammoth. The possum brothers are like the two little hellians you probably know or are related to in some fashion. While they repeatedly antagonize one another, like true brothers they ultimately do care for each other, their surrogate sister, and their newly adopted clan.

It’s kind of interesting that the “Ice Age” movies seem to have become a framework for the intermittent vignettes involving Scrat. It occurred to me that he’s essentially a modernized Wile E. Coyote in constant pursuit of the ever-elusive Road Runner—i.e. the acorn. The funniest segments in the film involve Scrat trying to sneak up on the acorn, as if it has a life all its own. It’s kind of odd, you think, that a film with three major comedians needs comic relief from a computer-generated creature whose grunts and gripes are voiced by the relatively unknown Chris Wedge, director of Scrat’s first animated short.

I will say I wasn’t cracking up in the aisle, but it’s more or less a pleasing movie. I don’t expect a film aimed at children and parents to risk unpredictable punchlines. If I had one complaint it was, undoubtedly, the musical bits. To me, when an animated movie lurches into Busby Berkeley mode, it’s not only showing off (though it’s not much of a technical feat to achieve visual symmetry with computers that can make placement precise), it’s also filler. Come on, Hollywood. Don’t underestimate the ability of kids to be captivated by a genuinely good story instead of pandemonious antics.

All the same, the film doesn’t try to be too clever and hip for the kids, as have many animated movies of late in the endless attempt to sell attitude to credit-card wielding adults at the box office. While it contains far less story than, say, “Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit,” I still think families will find it an endearing movie that doesn’t overwhelm its young viewers, and still reinforces some universally agreeable virtues regarding friendship, conscience and courage.

Ice Age: The Meltdown • Dolby® Digital surround sound in select theatres • MPAA Rating: PG for some mild language and innuendo. • Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp.

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