Ice Age: The Meltdown

on March 31, 2006 by Wade Major
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On the totem of studio-affiliated CGI animation houses, Fox's Blue Sky Studios ranks a respectable third behind Disney's Pixar and DreamWorks' (now Universal's) PDI. But Blue Sky's reputation is also somewhat fragile, built largely on one hit -- “Ice Age” -- and recently tainted by a spectacular failure -- “Robots.” All of which puts enormous pressure on “Ice Age: The Meltdown” to replicate and even surpass the success of its predecessor, a feat which it is almost certain to do despite its myriad shortcomings.

As the Ice Age finally begins to thaw, Manny the wooly mammoth (Ray Romano) and his friends -- Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo) and Diego the saber-toothed tiger (Denis Leary)-- find they need to beat a hasty retreat from their old stomping ground before it's hit with a massive flood from the collapse of the surrounding ice dam. But for Manny, there's also the sensitive issue of extinction – unless he can find a mate, he may end up being the last of his species. This all makes for a tepid, if intermittently entertaining road trip that centers mainly on Manny's struggle to develop a relationship with a lady mammoth named Ellie (Queen Latifah) who just happens to think she's a possum. Ironically, the film's weaknesses manifest themselves in the wake of its strengths, namely the spectacularly funny interludes featuring Scrat the squirrel (sounds voiced by executive producer and director of the previous picture, Chris Wedge) in yet another maddening quest to capture his elusive acorn. As in the first film, these are the most inventive, imaginative and entertaining parts of the movie, clearly influenced by the antics of Warner Bros. icon Wile E. Coyote, whom Scrat more than coincidentally resembles. But this also creates a problematic narrative imbalance that becomes more and more pronounced as the film goes on. Both children and adults are likely to find themselves increasingly more interested in seeing Scrat reunited with his acorn than having Manny and Ellie find true love.

Some interesting voice casting for smaller parts merits mention – Jay Leno as armadillo huckster Fast Tony and Josh Peck and Seann William Scott as Ellie's possum “brothers,” Eddie and Crash – but they're minor cherries atop a fast-melting and mostly watered-down scoop of an all-too-familiar flavor. For while the Blue Sky team cannot be reproached for their technical prowess – incoming director Carlos Saldanha and his team have seamlessly taken the reins from Wedge – it is their inadequacy as storytellers that most separate this and their other pictures from the elite class of Pixar and PDI. That being said, there's a successful model in the “Toy Story” and “Shrek” franchises that Fox and Blue Sky are wise to emulate. And with the film wisely positioned to gain from off-season counter-programming, any gripes about its comparative inadequacies will probably be few. Voiced by Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, Seann William Scott, Josh Peck, Queen Latifah, Chris Wedge, Will Arnett and Jay Leno. Directed by Carlos Saldanha. Written by Peter Gaulke, Gerry Swallow and Jim Hecht. Produced by Lori Forte. A Fox release. Animated. Rated PG for some mild language and innuendo. Running time: 90 min

Tags: Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, Seann William Scott, Josh Peck, Queen Latifah, Chris Wedge, Will Arnett and Jay Leno. Directed by Carlos Saldanha. Written by Peter Gaulke, Gerry Swallow and Jim Hecht. Produced by Lori Forte. A Fox release. Animated, minor, off-season, problematic, species
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