"Ice Age: The Meltdown" is an entirely serviceable follow-up to the 2002 hit that will thoroughly amuse kids and get a rise or two out of parents as well. Graced by vibrant CGI images and sly readings by the three returning top vocal thesps, Fox release looks to brighten the spotty early spring B.O. landscape.

A tad crasser and pushier than its predecessor, “Ice Age: The Meltdown” is still an entirely serviceable follow-up to the 2002 hit that will thoroughly amuse kids and get a rise or two out of parents as well. Graced by vibrant CGI images and sly readings by the three returning top vocal thesps, Fox release looks to brighten the spotty early spring B.O. landscape by approximating the commercial potency of the original, which salted away $382 million worldwide and plenty more in ancillary afterlife.

“This global warming is killing me,” an old-timer gripes, as he beholds the literal water park the previously frigid neighborhood has become. Blissfully ignorant of the climatic threat about to strike them, the happily integrated creatures live in a fool’s paradise, romping and sliding and goofing around in the verdant playground that used to be an ice palace.

Lest one imagine, however, that “Meltdown” is a socially conscious propaganda piece, in a way, the opposite is true; global warming, rather than being blamed on anyone (all human characters have been eliminated this time around, so there’s no one to blame), is presented as a natural phenomenon with which the planet’s guests must cope.

The first to notice something’s amiss is Scrat, the beleaguered rodent whose initial attempt to secure an ever-elusive nut is frustrated when he runs out of body parts to plug up holes in an increasingly bursting dam of ice. As before, the Scrat running gag reps a memorable highlight that revives an antic Chuck Jones-style comedy of frustration.

Before long, the happy campers, once again dominated by sad sack mammoth Manny (voiced by Ray Romano), mordant saber-toothed tiger Diego (Denis Leary) and dufus-y sloth Sid (John Leguizamo), realize the doomsayers are right — the ice cliffs surrounding them won’t hold much longer. To avoid the coming flood, the beasts and critters must travel three days up valley to a waiting ark.

With Manny suffering from the impression he may be the last mammoth on Earth, the ponderous journey acquires a little emotional oomph with the arrival Ellie (Queen Latifah), a mammoth convinced she’s a possum, to the point that she sleeps hanging upside down by her tail from a tree. Part of her problem — and the film’s — is she keeps incessant company with two manic possums (Seann William Scott, Josh Peck) who prove that one hyperactive character (a position already locked down by Scrat) is enough for any film. Diego demonstrably feels the same way, and one increasingly wishes he would succeed in his wish for a possum snack.

Through their journey, the wayfarers are threatened by a couple of nasty, big-toothed amphibians, and are followed by a flock of vultures, whose very clever reworking of the tune “Food Glorious Food” from “Oliver!,” performed as they peer drooling down on what they hope will be their next meal, reps the musical highlight.

Style and approach of the sequel are of a piece with the original picture, on which present helmer Carlos Saldanha was co-director (to Chris Wedge, who’s now exec producer). Lori Forte remains as producer. New writers Peter Gaulke, Gerry Swallow and Jim Hecht supply plenty of decent jokes that Romano, Leguizamo and Leary deliver with every bit of drollery they can summon, but there’s a small new anxiety to please that differentiates the tone somewhat from the first outing. Not that the small fry will notice.

Ice Age: The Meltdown

Production

A 20th Century Fox release of a 20th Century Fox Animation presentation of a Blue Sky Studios production. Produced by Lori Forte. Executive producers, Christopher Meledandri, Chris Wedge. Directed by Carlos Saldanha. Screenplay, Peter Gaulke, Gerry Swallow, Jim Hecht; story, Gaulke, Swallow.

Crew

(Deluxe color); editor, Harry Hitner; music, John Powell; art director, Thomas Cardone; character designer, Peter de Seve; sound designer (Dolby/DTS), Randy Thom; line producer, Bob Gordon; casting, Christian Kaplan. Reviewed at Avco Cinemas, Los Angeles, March 25, 2006. MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 90 MIN.

With

Voices:
Manny - Ray Romano Sid - John Leguizamo Diego - Denis Leary Crash - Seann William Scott Eddie - Josh Peck Ellie - Queen Latifah Lone Gunslinger Vulture - Will Arnett Fast Tony - Jay Leno

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