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Ice Age: The Meltdown

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 04/03/06 20:24:00

"Actually, it's 'Ice Age: The Letdown.' Ahem."
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

“Ice Age: The Meltdown” is what “Ice Age” was not. Or, more appropriately: “Ice Age” is what “Ice Age: The Meltdown” is not. “Ice Age,” the underappreciated cartoon gem that remains one of the very best features of the computer animation era, is sweet, funny, charming, thrilling, and overloaded with heart. “Ice Age: The Meltdown,” meanwhile, feels less inspired and more obligatory; it’s in theaters, yes, but it feels like a cheap direct-to-video rush job.

This sequel comes to us from director Carlos Saldanha (who served as co-director on “Ice Age” and “Robots” and gets promoted to the big chair here) and writers Peter Gaulke and Gerry Swallow (who previously teamed up to pen “Black Knight” and “Say It Isn’t So” - not a good sign). The absence of the original film’s creative staff (not counting Saldanha) is quite obvious; “The Meltdown” comes off like a movie made by people familiar enough with the first film to get by, but not enough to figure out what made that movie work so well.

With one exception: the Scrat sequences. If you saw “Ice Age,” you remember Scrat. He was that little rodent who would pop up from time to time in a series of scenes separate from the main story; his quest for an out-of-reach acorn turned into a parade of physical comedy worthy of the best Looney Tunes shorts. Scrat returns to do pretty much the same thing all over again, and for the most part, the results are just as wonderful. Laughs come big and loud throughout, with the little guy struggling to nab a nut that’s landed first atop an ice tower, then in a bird’s nest; the slapstick on display here is on par with that of the original film. Take all of the Scrat scenes, put them together into one short seven-minute movie, and you’ve got a short that could rival any Road Runner cartoon. (You could do without the final few Scrat bits, however, as they’re a bit uninspired, with one stretching on far too long, and with others straining to become unnecessarily tied into the main plot.)

Take out Scrat, though, and you’ve got one heck of a mediocre movie on your hands. The story (which makes no mention of the first film and does not attempt to explain how the characters got where they now are) finds Manny the mammoth (voiced again by Ray Romano), Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo), and Diego the sabertooth tiger (Denis Leary) hanging out in some mixed-species herd in a glacier-surrounded valley. It’s discovered that the Ice Age is ending, and the valley will soon be flooded, leaving the herd to reach a makeshift boat at the far end of the valley in three days time.

Which leads to several storylines, none of which manage to rise above the level of “well, we needed to think of something to do to fill time.” Storyline Number One has Manny depressed at the notion of being the last mammoth, only to discover Ellie (Queen Latifah), a mammoth who was raised by opossums and - get this! - doesn’t know she’s a mammoth. Yeesh. Ellie is accompanied by two wisecracking, extreme sport-loving opossum brothers (Seann William Scott and Josh Peck); that one of them starts singing “I Believe I Can Fly” in one scene is all the information you need to understand that these two characters exist only to present cheap pop culture references, lame sight gags, and anything else that might dumb down the movie and make everything so very, very uninspired. (Cheap pop culture references in animation have become the standard for any film desperate to keep our attention.) Latifah’s character, meanwhile, offers so little in the realm of intended romantic subplot that it becomes clear that she and her brothers were mandated by executives looking to sell more toys.

Storyline Number Two involves Diego’s fear of water. Watching this subplot unfold reminded me of those screenwriting tomes young writers often buy - the kind that tell you that you have to develop a subplot in this fashion, with mandatory plot developments on pages 42, 61, 78, and so on. The scenes in which Diego discusses his secret phobia with Sid are always awkwardly placed and serve only to lead up to the big finale in which Diego must dive into the water to save his friend. It’s something right out of the lame sequel handbook; this is the best they could come up with in regards to furthering character development.

Storyline Number Three is another easy-out for whenever the scripters run out of ideas: thawed out during the meltdown are two dino-fish monsters, who pop up every now and then to add some instant adventure (just add water, pardon the horrible joke). These action scenes are decent enough to get us by and keep the kiddies interested, but the whole thing feels so secondary, almost like an afterthought (again, perhaps to sell extra toys?), that there’s too little a chance for any of this to be as exciting as the filmmakers want it to be.

Accompanying these subplots in a clunky, mish-mash fashion are such dopey bits as: Jay Leno (!) voicing a slickster armadillo conman; Sid meeting a tribe of sloths who worship him; and an unbearable sequence in which a flock of vultures break into a chorus of “Food, Glorious Food.” Both the vulture and sloth tribe scenes seem to be hopelessly grasping to recreate such gloriously goofy moments as the dodo scene from the original film. Both scenes fail.

“The Meltdown” is, above all else, a major disappointment. Fox and Blue Sky Animation have followed up a delightful heartfelt comedy with a sloppy, bland, depressingly mundane cartoon. Sure, there are some bright spots - Scrat still shines, and the leads do manage a cute moment every now and then - but it’s all too fleeting. The majority of “The Meltdown” is annoying and dull. These characters deserve better.

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