In a day and age when Pixarand sometimes Dreamworkscan be counted on for providing top-notch animated entertainments that widen their audience far beyond the single-digit demographic, "Ice Age: The Meltdown" feels relatively quaint and insignificant. While such films as 2001's "Shrek
," 2003's "Finding Nemo
" and 2004's "The Incredibles
" are veritable motion pictures, imaginative and exciting works of art in the land of computer-generated animation, this sequel to 2002's runaway box-office hit stays safely in the realm of being accurately labeled as just a cartoon. Like most cash-ins on successful first features, "Ice Age: The Meltdown" is more of the same, albeit with some slightly craftier script than before. But, alas, its outcome as a cute but disposable kid flick with minimal crossover appeal remains the same.
Set an indeterminate amount of years after the original "Ice Age
," unlikely confidantes Manny the woolly mammoth (voice of Ray Romano), Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo) and Diego the sabertooth tiger (Denis Leary) are living in the lap of luxury with their animal friends amidst an icy wonderland. Their peaceful existence is severely rattled when their landscape begins to melt around them. With the Ice Age coming to an end and a dam about to break at any moment, Manny, Sid and Diego embark on an increasingly perilous journey toward safety at the other end of the valley. Along the way, they befriend Ellie (Queen Latifah), a woolly mammoth with an identity crisisshe thinks she's a possumand her makeshift brothers, actual possums Eddie (Josh Peck) and Crash (Seann William Scott).
Directed by Carlos Saldanha (2005's "Robots
"), "Ice Age: The Meltdown" hasn't corrected many of the problems of its ho-hum predecessor. There are a handful of moments that stand out, including Ellie's delusional confusion over what animal she is and a humorous impromptu musical number, "Food, Glorious Food, " borrowed from the musical "Oliver!" and sung by the vulture population to their prey on the ground, but the story itself is unexceptional. When they come, the action scenes, including a lot of close calls over the sides of cliffs, are simply hackneyed variations on situations from the first film. Outside of the momentary interest in its central premise of escaping a catastrophic meltdown, screenwriter Jon Vitti's bad idea for a compelling subplot is to have Manny try to convince Ellie, who he thinks is the only other living soul from his species, to procreate with him. Say what?
Just as in "Ice Age
," the star attraction is Scrat (voiced in whimpers and grunts by Chris Wedge), a wily prehistoric squirrel with a case of rotten luck and an unquenched determination in making off with an acorn. Of course, his plans for retrieving it don't exactly go off without a hitch, and a lot of humor and originality is brought to coming up with fun ways for him to keep capturing and losing the acorn. Scrat, an adorable character who never seems to get his way, has seen his role increased for this sequel, but it is still only a minor part that doesn't gel with the rest of the story until the end. Every time Scrat is onscreen, the picture crackles with comedic savvy. Every time he goes away and Manny, Sid and Diego take center stage, the pace slows down considerably and patience begins to flag. Manny and Sid are dry and boring characters, while Sid is basically a less-inspired takeoff of Donkey, voiced by Eddie Murphy, from the "Shrek
" movies. The biggest new character (in size and screen time) is Ellie; as peppily voiced by Queen Latifah (2005's "Last Holiday
") and blessed with some charming quirks, she is also a stronger presence than the three leads.
On final review, "Ice Age: The Meltdown" is less of a "Toy Story 2
" or even a "Hoodwinked
" and more comparable to one of those feeble direct-to-video "Land Before Time" sequels. Younger audiences may be taken by Scrat and some of the individual moments of peril and juvenile comedy (yes, there is a fart joke), but with so many superior film choices for them on the market, even they are becoming sophisticated enough to tell a real diamond from fool's gold. "Ice Age: The Meltdown" is forgettable, completely harmless, sporadically amusing, and not at all ready to go up against the real masters at Pixar and Disney.