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Ice Age: The Meltdown (2006) Print E-mail
Friday, 31 March 2006
“Ice Age” of 2002 was a genuine, if gentle, surprise: an entertaining, imaginative CG cartoon feature from neither Pixar nor DreamWorks. It didn’t knock one out of the park, but it was consistently fun with appealing characters. Manny the Mammoth (voice of Ray Romano), who tends to walk alone, teams up with goofy ground sloth Sid (John Leguizamo) and inclined-to-be-surly sabertooth cat Diego (Denis Leary). They teamed up to return a human baby to its mother, member of a wandering tribe; in so doing, the three mismatched animals formed a strong bond. Around the edges, a squirrel-rat the production notes call Scrat (Chris Wedge) ineffectually but persistently tried to obtain an elusive acorn.

In “Ice Age: The Meltdown,” all the major characters are back, and Scrat is given a lot more screen time as he ingeniously tries to nail the elusive nut. There are no humans this time around, and the script is definitely less imaginative: it’s essentially the same plot as Disney’s “Dinosaur,” only this time the problem is too much water rather than too little.

Manny, Sid and Diego learn—reluctantly—that the Ice Age is ending. Their peaceful valley, surrounded by towering ice walls, is soon going to be a vast lake. There’s rumor of an “arc” at the far end of the valley that might provide an avenue of escape. We but not the characters learn that the deepening water harbors a couple of thawed-out carnivorous reptiles even more prehistoric than Manny and his pals.

As they begin the trek, Sid sets Manny to wondering if he, Manny, is the last mammoth on Earth. However, in their journey, they meet Ellie (Queen Latifah), a lively female mammoth who is convinced that she’s a possum—she even hangs by her tail at night—and not a mammoth at all. She’s accompanied by Crash (Seann William Scott) and Eddie (Josh Peck), mischievous, rambunctious twin possums she regards as her brothers. (In “Dinosaur,” an iguanodon was convinced he was a member of a lemur family.)

There’s not much more to the story than the travel, but this time there’s a lot more of Scrat. Until the very end, he has nothing to do with our trio-now-a-quartet of heroes, but instead battles the stubborn and soon melting ice in his endless efforts to obtain that acorn. These sequences are brisk, quick and well-timed, the best faux-Chuck Jones material in years. You’ll be reminded of Jones’ coyote, driven to fanaticism in his efforts to catch the Road Runner—and it’s a good reminding. Scrat and his acorn hold their own; instead of groaning whenever the main story stops and we return to Scrat, you’re likely to meet his new efforts with pleasure and laughter.
As CG animation grows increasingly sophisticated, the limitations gradually disappear and new ideas spring up. Here, the light on the long auburn hair on Manny’s body seems rich and realistic; the melting ice and resulting water are equally real. The first “Ice Age” was directed by Chris Wedge; this one was handled by Carlos Saldanha. He worked from a script credited to Peter Gaulke and Gerry Swallow , although as usual with animated films, there are probably more writers than these.

The movie is populated with a vast array of prehistoric animals, from the starring mammoth, sloth and saber-tooth cat, down to turtle-like glyptodons, one of whom comes to a sorrow (hollowed-out) end. Fast Tony (Jay Leno) the hustler has a few scenes, and for unclear reasons, vultures turn up frequently. In fact, at one point a huge flock of vultures does a version of “Glorious Food” from OLIVER!—though here the lyrics are suited to carrion-eaters. The eruption of this full-fledged musical number is as unexpected and surprising as the musical numbers that capped “The 40 Year Old Virgin.” This number isn’t as much fun, partly because our heroes are merely spectators, but it’s brassy and bold.

There’s something about Sid unexpectedly being worshipped as a fire king by a flock of sloths smaller than he is. This seems more an effort to add enough running time than a reasonable plot turn. But they had to come up with something; the idea that Ellie thinks she’s a possum gets very old, very fast. There’s some funny stuff in lines tossed out by supporting characters, such as a tapir who seems to be Jewish. The ending wraps everything up neatly: Manny and Ellie aren’t the last mammoths, the sea-going killer beasts are disposed of, and family solidarity is established again.

“Ice Age: The Meltdown” is well-paced and beautifully designed; the colors this process deals with seems even brighter and more intense than in most standard, cartoon-animated features. CGI has come far enough that we can now cease to be astonished by its novelty. Feel free to see the movie just because you like the story and/or characters, and not to be amazed by the technique. It’s a good, not a great, movie, but “Ice Age: The Meltdown” succeeds because of the writing, voice work and direction. However, if it’s successful, I hope production company Blue Sky and 20th Century Fox won’t feel a third “Ice Age” movie is mandatory.

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