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Ice Age 2 - The Meltdown

by Kilian Melloy
Friday Mar 31, 2006
Ice Age 2 - The Meltdown

Can a movie be said to suffer from ADD? Or must we only assume that if the movie is hyper, distractible, and given to careening shifts in story, that it is aimed at viewers who are unable to concentrate on a story for more than a few minutes?

The problem with Ice Age: The Meltdown is not that it has no plot. It has a promising plot indeed: Sid the Sloth (John Leguizamo), Diego the Saber-toothed Tiger (Denis Leary), and Manny the Woolly Mammoth (Ray Romano), together with Scrat the acorn-mad squirrel (Chris Wedge) and all the other residents of an ice-rimed valley, face imminent doom when they discover that global warming has begun to melt the glaciers, creating a huge reservoir held back only by an icy dam. As temperatures climb, the dam starts to crumble. In a mere few days, the entire valley will be under water and our prehistoric friends with it, unless they can locate a mythic boat (or, dare we say it, ark) upon which they can float to safety.

Aside from this big problem, there are sub-plots galore: Sid the Sloth feels that he gets no respect, despite being the general know-it-all, tactician, armchair shrink, and gadfly. Manny the Mammoth is still plagued by "poofey" fur that makes him look fat, and an top of that he fears that his species is going extinct. Belonging to a vanishing breed is bad enough, but Manny's feelings of frustration and doom are sharpened when he discovers that the only other mammoth in the valley -- a sweetie named Ellie (Queen Latifah) -- has no idea that she's a mammoth at all; she thinks that she's a possum like her adoptive, constantly sugar-rushing brothers Crash (Seann William Scott) and Eddie (Josh Peck). As for Diego, he discovers that he has a healthy, but untimely, fear of water: "We live in a melting world," warns Sid, who tries to teach Diego how to swim. "Better learn to face your fears!" Sound advice, given that two prehistoric alligators have thawed out along with the waters and are just waiting for a chance to wrap their teeth around our cartoon pals. Jon Vitti's script does not want for ideas. No, the problem with the movie is that it's just not very funny. It's a comment on how very -unfunny- the film is that Diego's take on the issue of his water phobia constitutes one of the best one-liners: "Fear is for prey!" A fine line for a Swartzenegger flick, but isn't this supposed to be lighthearted family fare? Shouldn't the laughs come at pre-planned junctures?

To be fair, sometimes they do. As with the first Ice Age, the film's episodes are punctuated by the riotous adventures of Scrat the squirrel -- one of the few animals in the movie who does not talk; all he does is grunt, shriek, and warble, not even having the chance this time around, as he did in the first movie, to put on a pantomime -- but most of The Meltdown feels so scattershot and random that Scrat's misadventures feel less like entr'acts than just another tangent struck off upon by a garbled screenplay.

Nor are there many set-pieces that live up to the outright glee of the original -- no wildly frolicsome rides through the icy bowels of glaciers, for example. What we get here is a decidedly left-field (and gratuitous) encounter between Sid and a tribe of pygmy sloths who worship him as a fire god and seek to feed him to a volcano. On the up side, there is a wildly funny sequence that sends up the mega-choreography of 1940s Hollywood spectacles, a dance number done by vultures celebrating an impending feast. "Food, glorious food!" they sing, as if in parody of the already parodilicious English duo Flanders and Swan. (To be sure, a rousing chorus of "Mud, Glorious Mud!" would not be out of place in a film about an imminent deluge.) More typical, though, is the briskly kinetic adventure involving whirling, balancing boulders on which our heroes cling and wobble, looking so much like a mobile that you can't shake the recurring sense that this, much more than the preceding film, is a kid-flick. The dialogue is flat, and though the actors ply their trade, and their voices, with the full range of inflection and with fine timing, there's not much in the way of sophisticated humor either verbally or visually -- fart jokes and other juvenalia abound, but there's nothing as frolicsome here as Sid's run-ins with a pair of gay rhinos from the last time around.

One way in which The Meltdown lives up to the original Ice Age is in the animation; as before, the creatures move, lope, and ramble in a realistic looking manner, and the lushly rendered action plays out against a minimalistic, Fritz Freleng-ish backdrop. Director Carlos Saldanha (who co-directed the first Ice Age) is to be commended for making the movie look so good. Another standout feature is the music, which fits the mood to each scene to a Q. Purely in terms of production, this follow-up is a great movie -- except for the likelihood that you'd enjoy the movie every bit as much without the voiceovers. This may well mark the start of a new genre: call it the "iPod Flick," because the images are so fast, colorful, and disconnected that while the kiddies giggle at the lame jokes, you can slip in your earbuds and find that the on-screen antics pretty much sync up to whatever playlist you happen to have chosen.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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