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Ice Age: the Meltdown

Pixar-Level (Well, Almost) Family-Oriented Fun

If the names Manny, Sid, and Diego don't ring a bell, chances are you haven't heard of Ice Age, one of the better non-Pixar computer animated films to come along in recent years. In Ice Age, Manny, a curmudgeonly mammoth, Sid, a lisping sloth, and Diego, a saber-toothed tiger, fled the ice age of the title for greener pastures while learning the values of trust and friendship. 2002's Ice Age brought in more than $382 million worldwide in ticket sales, making a sequel a no-brainer.

In Ice Age: The Meltdown, Manny (voiced by Ray Romano), Sid (John Leguizamo), and Diego (Denis Leary) have settled in as de facto leaders of multi-species "herd" that makes its home in a glacier-lined valley. Trouble comes quickly: the glaciers are beginning to melt, threatening the peaceful valley with a biblical flood (ending possibly the shortest Ice Age on record). But all is not lost: a story spreads about an ark-like boat that can save the herd, but it's perched at the end of the valley. Thus begins another exodus, with dangers coming from the rising water (and what's in the water) and the air.

On the journey from the valley, Manny, Sid, and Diego encounter two prank-playing possums, Crash (Seann William Scott) and Eddie (Josh Peck), and their plus-sized "sister", Ellie (Queen Latifah), who's actually a mammoth. Manny, chided by Sid for being the last of his species, may just have a potential mate in Ellie, but there's a slight problem: Ellie thinks she's a possum. Manny has to overcome his reticence (he lost his mate and wife long ago to human hunters) and Ellie's intransigence. Diego also has to overcome some fears, while Sid, feeling disrespected and unappreciated by his friends, tries to find a way to prove himself. Scrat, the acorn-obsessed half-squirrel, half-rat who made a splash in the original, is back too in an extended, mostly tangential subplot.

Although Ice Age: The Meltdown doesn't retain the same level of inventiveness and freshness of the original, it comes close. Blue Sky Studios, a subsidiary of 20th Century Fox, stuck close to the formula that made the original a hit with children, their parents, and animation fans. In the four years since the release of Ice Age, computer animation has continued to make technological strides, but Blue Sky Studios wisely left the character designs (mostly) untouched. The rapidly melting ice, though, gave the animators the opportunity to create a variety of water effects and backgrounds as the world underneath the ice begins to assert itself. And let's not forget the set pieces that have become standard in computer-animated films. Here, they're nothing short of inspired.

Not surprisingly, not all the humor (some verbal, some physical) works. Some jokes fall flat (sometimes painfully), especially those generated by Crash and Eddie. While it might sound objectionable to fans of the original film, Scrat has sadly worn out his welcome. The mostly non-verbal Scrat and his chaotic misadventures are a throwback to the old Warner Brothers cartoons directed by Chuck Jones and company. Scrat is part Sisyphus, part Wile E. Coyote, but there's only so much that animators can do with the character before his subplot becomes dull and repetitive (it also distracts unnecessarily from the main storyline at several key points).

As for themes, we get more of the same emphasis on trust and friendship, but this time we also get a message about the need to overcome personal fears. The director, Carlos Saldanha (he co-directed Ice Age and Robots) and his screenwriter, Jon Vitti, luckily let the characters set up and explore themes through who the characters are, what they do, and how their actions change them. It's a solid move, which, in turn, makes Ice Age: The Meltdown worth recommending for parents looking for polished, lightweight family viewing at the local multiplex. There's only one caveat worth mentioning: like Ice Age, the sequel puts its major characters in serious, sometimes intense, peril, but most children will be just fine.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars