March 31, 2006

‘Ice Age’ sequel even better than original

LOS ANGELES -- 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