March 31, 2006

“Ice Age” sequel even better than original

By Luke Sader

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - In the energetic sequel
"Ice Age: The Meltdown," youngsters may fret over whether the
animal heroes will reach their new home safely, parents may
wonder how all this melting ice parallels the current concerns
about global warming, and 20th Century Fox Animation may have
to figure out what to do with the bounty undoubtedly flowing
its way from box office and DVD coffers. Ray Romano again heads
the voice cast, reunited with John Leguizamo and Denis Leary
from the original 2002 "Ice Age."

The story gets under way with the zany sloth Sid
(Leguizamo) running a day camp for young animals. His old
buddies -- the mature woolly mammoth Manny (Ray Romano) and the
dryly witty saber-toothed tiger Diego (Leary) -- make Sid
realize that he is really quite unsuitable as any kind of role
model. Con artist armadillo Fast Tony (Jay Leno) alerts the
various breeds that a global warming will imminently melt the
enormous glacial dam that protects their valley. Oceans of
water will flood the landscape, thus they must embark on a trek
toward safety. It is at this point that the very good CGI
effects are never more impressive as the enormous scope of
their changing environmental habitat is revealed.

The charm of the original film was its endearing character
development, mixing humor with personality traits with real
dimension (not all that unlike Romano's former hit TV sitcom,
"Everybody Loves Raymond"). This lifts "Meltdown" above many
other animated efforts. Along their trip, each of the three
leads gets a story arc: Manny may be the last of his species,
that is until Ellie (Queen Latifah) shows up, a mammoth who
thinks she's an opossum, like her sidekicks Crash (Seann
William Scott) and Eddie (Josh Peck). Sid, the Rodney
Dangerfield of sloths, finds respect in a fun midnight-cult
sequence. And Diego struggles to face a long-held fear.

In most respects, this sequel is better than the original.
No human characters appear this time, so it's a more seamless
animal tale. Although Diego's tiger is more of a pussycat here,
the film's overall story line, complete with predatory
prehistoric alligator creatures, is more involving.

Even clocking in 11 minutes longer than "Ice Age," director
Carlos Saldanha (who received co-director credit on the
original) has made a vivid and entertaining (and educational?)
family film that never flags.

Highlights include the tender depiction of Ellie's
life-changing moment when she recognizes her childhood home is
now completely melted; a rousing all-vulture version of "Food,
Glorious Food" from "Oliver!"; and, last but hardly least,
Scrat, the unspeaking squirrel/rat, back from the first film
with more silly screen time. He is still risking life and limb
on sheer, frozen cliffs above and below icy water in pursuit of
that elusive acorn. Scrat's intermittent sequences are
episodic, like chapters of an old serial -- and like those old
serials, the kids will eat it up.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter