The Theory of Chaos

Sunday, November 04, 2007

From the Archive - MOVIE REVIEW - Ice Age: The Meltdown

Originally published 4/8/06
Full review behind the jump

Ice Age: The Meltdown

: Carlos Saldanha
: Story by Peter Gaulke & Gerry Swallow, screenplay by Peter Gaulke & Gerry Swallow and Jim Hecht
: Lori Forte
Featuring the Vocal Talents of
: Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, Seann William Scott, Josh Peck, Queen Latifah, Chris Wedge

Geothermal variance gets a major squash-job for
Ice Age: The Meltdown, in which the frozen era that kicked off during the movie’s predecessor comes to an abrupt end only a couple of years later. Our heroes are still alive and in their prime. Sadly, the head-spinning climatological implications of this are the only bit of daring present in this animated sequel from 20th Century Fox-based Blue Sky Studios, which otherwise delivers a rather minor and perfunctory follow-up.

Before, Manny the mammoth (Ray Romano), Diego the saber-toothed tiger (Denis Leary) and Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo) separated from all the other critters of the wild who were migrating south to
avoid the Ice Age, and had some charming and even poignant adventures while trying to return a primitive human baby to his family. Now the humans have vanished, and all the animals have reunited and seem to not mind this Ice Age so much after all. Although it’s fair to point out, it’s become rather balmy for an Ice Age when the kids take up water-sliding. Perhaps if we merely substitute the term “Ice Age” for the normal passage of winter to summer and back, and grant the possibility that these animals have very short memories, then that could be considered explained.

But temperature indeed instigates the danger – the towering walls of glacier that ring their verdant valley are melting, and could crumble at any time, flooding everything and killing them all. A vulture (Will Arnett) takes great pleasure in pointing out their dire circumstances, too, announcing that the cataclysm will take place in exactly three days; but if they wish to avoid becoming his carrion, they should head for a “boat” at the other end of the valley. In asking myself how a vulture has such precise knowledge of a glacier’s longevity, I am forced to conclude that he was one of the screenwriters. I have yet to satisfy the question of why he told all his potential victims how to escape and foil his plans. Perhaps in later eras he will evolve into a Bond Villain.

You might rightly accuse me of holding a kids’ movie about talking animals to too high a logical standard. Perhaps. But the point is – when a movie really picks you up and carries you along, are questions like this even occurring to you? The drift in my thoughts is a symptom of a deeper problem, that this movie does not have enough inspiration to cover the skeleton of its plot contrivances, and must survive off the nourishment of the odd successful joke or sequence.

It’s not that there aren’t conflicts. Manny is just beginning to realize that his iconoclastic attitude might have been too successful by half, as no one has seen any other mammoths around in a long time, and the new weather doesn’t bode well for those like him. “Extinction” jokes rub him the wrong way, and the problem is only compounded when, on the long march to safety, he meets a real live female mammoth, Ellie (Queen Latifah), who thinks she’s a possum.

Sid, with his wet lisp and vacant optimism, supplies heart and mayhem in equal parts (I still love his bottom-heavy construction and how soft and tactile his fur looks), while Diego no longer has any credible viciousness to back up his displays of temper (sort of like the real Denis Leary in that respect). Like most cats he fears water; this is a weakness, not a plot line, though the filmmakers attempt to make one out of it anyway. Ellie has two possum brothers, Eddie and Crash (Josh Peck, Seann William Scott), who are sort of like the Little Rascals for the Jackass generation, spouting clichés and endangering themselves and others for giggles.

And the water’s rising, and the vultures are circling (and, at one point which should be funnier than it is, they burst into a showtune), and two ferocious aquatic predators are in pursuit as well. Which leads to the question – could a mammoth fight while under water – in fact, do anything under water except sink? And here was one question that needed no answer nor snark, because it is executed with enough vigor that I didn’t care. But all these conflicts just feel less immediate, less personal and blood-curdling, than the events of the previous film.

I should point out that I smiled often. Sid has a colorful and musical encounter with a few of his own kind that comes to an inspired though utterly logical conclusion. Manny, when claiming large creatures don’t go extinct, is asked about the dinosaurs and has a good riposte: “The dinosaurs got cocky. They made enemies.” And, as in the first movie, we take frequent breaks from the action to check in on the rodent Scrat (Chris Wedge), whose eternally-frustrated quest to secure and bury a single sweet acorn is just as existential (and just as infinite in its comic possibilities) as the coyote’s pursuit of the roadrunner. These are easily the biggest laughs in the movie, though the filmmakers wisely restrain from dominating the running time of a feature with poor little Scrat.

In a way Ice Age: The Meltdown is at it’s best when it’s more breezy and anecdotal – like we’re watching a series of self-contained short subjects about broad characters we have an affectionate familiarity for. A feature film can be something bigger and more transporting, it can actually take us somewhere emotionally (as the original did when we learned the fate of Manny’s family). This sequel is good, but it is lesser in that crucial way.


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