Directed by Chris Wedge and Carlos Saldanha
Ice Age is a hit-and-miss affair that offers some nice visuals and a few good laughs. But, with Shrek and Monsters, Inc., still fresh in the mind, Ice Age oftentimes feels tired and forced in comparison.
The Nippy Era
The story of Ice Age revolves around Manfred the Moody Mammoth (Ray Romano, TV's Everybody Loves Raymond) as he decides to head north instead of south during the annual migration. He's a loner, a rebel, and he wants to do his own thing.
Unfortunately for Manny, a leisurely trip of solitude is not in the cards as he finds himself unwittingly befriending Sid the Sloth (John Leguizamo, Moulin Rouge). Sid's a well-meaning sloth, but trouble follows him everywhere, including a near-death run-in with a couple of rhinos whom he deprives of the last dandelion of the season while they're savoring their salad. Manfred defends Sid, and from then on, the two are inseparable, whether Manny likes it or not.
During their travels, the two come across a human female struggling in a river. She's just jumped off a waterfall to save her baby from hungry saber-toothed tigers. Manfred saves the baby, but the mother is pulled away in the rapids.
And so the twosome becomes a threesome.
Being a mammoth of conscience, Manfred assists Sid in returning the baby to the human village up the path. But they arrive at the campground too late and witness a devastated wasteland following the humans' exodus after the tiger attack.
The plot thickens when one of the tigers, Diego (Denis Leary, TV's The Job), joins them in their quest to return the baby to the relocating humans. He's got ulterior motives, though; his tribe of tigers wants him to bring the baby back for dinner.
Déjà Vu All Over Again
In this Fox production, none of the characters, aside from the human baby, are "Disney cute." Of course, in a cartoon geared toward children (and with a PG rating no doubt intended to give the impression it has "cross over" appeal), that isn't necessarily a compliment.
To its disadvantage, Ice Age follows on the heels of two hugely successful animated features, Shrek and Monsters, Inc. It has elements from both; the loner with an irritating and unwanted traveling companion is a relationship very similar to Shrek and Donkey and adding a human baby for Manny and Sid to care for makes them just like Mike and Sully in Monsters, Inc.
What sets the two previous releases apart from this new incarnation is the funny bone. Shrek and Monsters, Inc., were consistently funny and had sensibilities that crossed generations and had far-reaching appeal. Ice Age at times struggles to find the laughs and when things slow down, it resorts to a running gag involving a "scrat" (something like a cross between a squirrel and a rat) and an acorn with physical comedy reminiscent of Looney Tunes skits.
Ice Age is a film that borrows broadly. Bits and pieces from The Flintstones to The Lion King are thrown in, making it a lark in search of its own voice.
Survival of the Fittest
The first-time directors, Chris Wedge and Carlos Saldanha, previously worked on projects as diverse as Fight Club and Tron. Wedge's Bunny also won the 1999 Academy Award for Best Animated Short.
Here, they combine their talents to create a world that is usually interesting to look at, but far from the fully realized world of Shrek. There are some really good moments along the way, including a nice bit with ice caves that serve as a sort of museum of natural history and a brief moment of high-spiritedness involving "tae kwon do-dos."
But the sight gags don't come fast and fresh enough to keep things interesting. Instead, the material goes heavy with a subplot involving Manny's family that explains his lonesome voyage. Giving credit where it's due, though, the story does provide nice themes of teamwork and acceptance that will hopefully make an impression on the younger viewers.
Overall, though, Ice Age won't survive the test of time and will be long forgotten by the time Shrek 2 stomps into theatres.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.