Judge Dennis Prince gives this indifferent sequel a rather chilly reception although its technical merits worked to thaw his stoic demeanor.
Our review of Ice Age: The Meltdown, published January 15th, 2007, is also available.
Watch out for that ice hole!
Proving that the vaunted Pixar Studios didn't actually have a monopoly on computer-animated feature films, Fox Studios released Ice Age in 2002 to the surprise and delight of audiences worldwide. The material was rather fresh in its approach, bringing along unlikely prehistoric cohorts to rally around a common cause, and the result was a fun film with good humor. Four years later, the anticipated sequel, Ice Age: The Meltdown, promised more zany adventures with our frigid friends in their icy homeland. The outcome, however, might have proved that this team is facing fast extinction, historically as well as theatrically.
Facts of the Case
As the story opens, we find Manny the Mammoth (Ray Romano, Everyone Loves Raymond), Sid the Sloth (John Leguizamo, ER) and Diego the saber-toothed tiger (Denis Leary, Rescue Me) enjoying life in a remote valley among other animals. When the scheming Fast Tony (Jay Leno) attempts to exploit the others with stories of impending peril and doom, the others pay him little attention until it appears, indeed, that the ice is melting. Fearing the valley will soon fill with icy water, the trio convinces the others to flee their isolated home in search for higher ground. Along the way, Manny comes to realize he is the last of his kind and fears extinction. He's reassured when he meets female mammoth Ellie (Queen Latifah, Stranger Than Fiction), if only he can convince her she's not really an opossum. Diego struggles with his repressed fear of water as Sid works his armchair psychiatry to keep the group together. Elsewhere, the insatiable Scrat, the saber-toothed squirrel, continues to pine after an elusive acorn.
After Fox struck unexpected fortune with 2002's Ice Age, it was immediately obvious that a sequel would be ordered up to cash in on the chemistry between unlikely cohorts, Manny, Sid, and Diego. And, as with most sequels, new characters were ordered up to provide new interactions and the hilarity that would certainly ensue. Unfortunately, the film merely follows the lines traced by previous studios' follow-on efforts, rendering Ice Age: The Meltdown as a lackluster exercise in conventional sequel making. Where the wayward Eskimo infant provided compelling coalition for the unlikely trio, the oncoming of the end of the Ice Age simply wasn't enough to generate the same antics and emotional exploration. We're given Manny's concern over pending extinction as a simple heartstring to pluck at, but it never quite reaches us. When he meets Ellie, the female mammoth who's convinced she's an opossum, it simply doesn't play out, not even the easily anticipated romantic interlude. Villainous characters such as Fast Tony and Lone Gunslinger Vulture (Will Arnett, Horton Hears a Who), not to mention a pair of slimy and sharp-toothed sea predators, simply don't establish any satisfying sense of conflict, their presence feeling needless or, at best, underutilized.
Thankfully, the usual toilet humor that has too often afflicted modern day animated features is kept minimal (save for a bit of nose-picking). Uncharacteristic is the inclusion of several low-level expletives ("ass," "damn," and "crap") that are obviously intended to tickle the young viewers' awareness of no-no naughtiness but which are really quite unnecessary.
Without a doubt, it is Scrat who is most celebrated in this sequel, with a far more pervasive presence here than in the previous picture. With Tex Avery style antics, the action regularly switches to his quests for the unattainable acorn, unfortunately breaking any rhythm or continuity that the main story might have otherwise achieved. Yes, Scrat is an amusing character but there simply isn't enough material for him to dominate so much screen time. A direct-to-video Scrat feature, however, wouldn't be surprising. And, in the this-is-too-weird-to-be-true department, Scrat's brief visit to Acorn Heaven appeared to be scored with a rendition of "We Are One," the music from Penthouse's 1979 hard-core adult feature, Caligula. No, it's not a Freudian association; listen for yourself.
Technically, this Special Edition is a treat for the senses. It begins with a stunning 1.85:1 widescreen transfer that is positively immaculate. Although animated features sometimes suffer compression artifacts or are undersold by indifferently calibrated displays, this one look near perfect. The details are exquisite, tempting to rival high-definition efforts (benefited by fine upscaling technology, of course). Thanks to spot-on color gradations, astute black level rendering, and excellent contrast control, the image takes on a perpetual dimensionality that is so fun to behold that you'll often forget the shortcomings of the storyline. Audio is similarly well represented, the now routine Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix filling out the expansive soundstage in a way that makes us remember what a revelation it was a decade ago. Discrete effects are well executed around the channels with smooth directional imaging. Dialog is always clear and intelligible while the playful score is properly balanced throughout.
The disc harbors quite a gaggle of extra features including two fun and informative commentary tracks, one with director Carlos Saldanha and the other with a collective of the production crew. Without doubt, these folks enjoyed their work and it certainly shows (technically, anyway). No Time for Nuts is the most notable bonus, an animated short featuring the quirky crowd favorite, Scrat. Possum brothers Crash and Eddie get the spotlight next in a series of excised scenes, Stunts & Outtake Prank. To ease the studio's uneasy conscience about the lack of educational value of the main feature, Lost Historical Student Films are mock vintage shorts that explain aspects of the Ice Age Period. For budding students of the filmmaking process, The Animation Director's Chair reveals the production process via six discrete scenes from the picture while Scrat's Piranha Smackdown illustrates the application and impact of sound effects on a finished sequence. Character-centric featurettes, Meet Crash & Eddie, Meet Ellie, and Silly Sid and Jon Leguizamo illustrate how human and animal merge in the computer-animated arena. On the pandering-to-the-kids side, you'll discover mildly interesting features like Sid's Sing-and-Dance-Along as well as four set-top games. And, in a final nod to the early days of DVD features, there's the usual DVD-ROM and weblink content. In the cross-sell section, you'll find a brief Inside Look: The Simpsons Movie as well as an all-to-obvious Easter egg seen on the main menu that leads to a commercial for Fox's A Night at the Museum.
Lastly, this particular edition contains a bonus disc that offers a couple of needless Scrat featurettes as well as a brief material regarding the modeling of the film's characters, including Scrat. A few more set-top games are included but the real purpose for the disc is Inside Look: Horton Hears a Who, a plug for Fox's newest animated feature slated for a March 2008 theatrical bow.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
While Ice Age: The Meltdown isn't terribly engaging, it should be commended for its general refrain from engaging in bathroom-inspired behavior. There's one "poop" gag but thankfully not much more than that (save for the few bits of language previously mentioned). If you've grown tired of characters farting and belching throughout a feature, you'll be happy to know that doesn't happen here. The film doesn't rely on such lowbrow humor to carry it along, and that's worth applauding.
Without a doubt, the original Ice Age was a surprise hit that was destined to spawn a sequel, a follow-up that was likewise destined to miss its mark. Even though it's not stellar entertainment, Ice Age: The Meltdown is largely safe entertainment for all ages, even if its story doesn't have much purpose.
Although this court is disappointed with the flimsy storyline, it hereby finds Ice Age: The Meltdown: Special Edition to be not guilty of any egregious offenses. Visually, it's a treat that deserves a look and a listen, if just for its technical merits.
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