Director : Co- Carlos Saldanha
Screenplay : Michael Berg and Michael J. Wilson and Peter Ackerman (story by Michael J. Wilson)
MPAA Rating : PG
Year of Release : 2002
Not surprisingly, the majority of Ice Age is not nearly as funny as its already-legendary opening, which depicts a tiny, long-nosed Scrat—a fictional prehistoric cross between a squirrel and a rat—desperately trying to bury his precious acorn in the solidly frozen ground only to cause a massive avalanche for his efforts. It's a beautifully extended bit of slapstick that plays out much like silent film comedy, where we read everything off the Scrat's bugging eyes and manic physical movements (although his various grunts, squeaks, and high-pitched screams are vitally important to the humor, as well).
The rest of the movie, alas, despite the recurring presence of the Scrat, falls into a fairly predictable pseudo-Disney mold, featuring an ice-age version of The Incredible Journey, except instead of dogs and cats we get a woolly mammoth, a sloth, and a saber-tooth tiger. The first feature-length computer-animated film from 20th Century-Fox's animation division, which is still recoiling from the disaster of the conventionally animated Titan A.E. (2000), Ice Age delivers where it needs to, but doesn't break any real new ground. It's funny and sweet and often clever, but it sometimes feels a little too formulaic, as if much of the writing involved filling in blanks on a form (Odd-couple bantering, check! Hip contemporary references, check! Feel-good theme about the importance of working together despite your differences, check!).
The general story outline is the least inspired aspect of the film: It involves a mission to return a lost human child to his tribe before a glacier pass closes. Ray Romano, the star of the TV sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, offers an unexpectedly effective voice to Manny, an enormous woolly mammoth with a sarcastic tongue, but a soft heart and an inner sadness. In some ways, Romano has the most thankless role, as he has to play the straight mammal, especially as a foil for John Leguizamo's Sid, a clueless and talkative sloth who looks like a furry anvil with buggy eyes and buck teeth. With his slight lisp and utter cowardice, Sid is the butt of most of the jokes—he's the weakest character in the Darwinian sense, so it's no surprise that he latches onto Manny right from the start. The trio is rounded out by Denis Leary's Diego, a saber-tooth tiger who has plans for the human child other than returning it to its tribe, although it is a foregone conclusion that his heart will be melted and he will be fully integrated into this make-shift herd.
All of this unfolds in a quick 80 minutes that is nicely paced and not a minute too long. Director Chris Wedge, working from a screenplay by Michael Berg, Michael J. Wilson, and Peter Ackerman, keeps the jokes rolling, interspersing the humor with moments of friendship and tenderness among the film's odd central trio (the most effective is when Manny sees cave drawings come to life and depict the death of his family at the hands of human hunters). There's a somewhat strange Darwinian tension throughout the film—lots of talk about animals eating each other and debates about the absurdity of animals saving a human child who will eventually grow up to be a hunter that might kill and eat them. This tension doesn't sit quite right, although you can see how it was necessary to broach such topics given the plot dynamics. Overall, though, what you remember most are the gags—particularly a hilarious sequence involving the self-inflicted demise of aptly named dodo birds and a sight gag involving the unexpected appearance of a UFO.
In its best moments, Ice Age is good escapist fun, goofy enough for the kids to lose themselves in, but smart enough to keep adults entertained, as well. The animation is generally excellent—slightly more cartoonish, less detailed, and not quite as finely textured as the work in Dreamworks' Shrek (2001) or the Disney/Pixar collaborations (most recently, Monsters, Inc.), it is still enjoyable to watch and is yet another nail in the coffin of traditional hand-drawn animation.
Copyright © 2002 James Kendrick