by David Cornelius
Maybe I’m just a sucker for the genre, but I absolutely loved “Ice Age.” Loved it, loved it, loved it. It’s funny, it’s sweet, it’s charming, it’s dazzling, and it’s funny. Yeah, I said funny twice, but that’s because, hey, it’s funny.That helps, since the story is as predictable as usual. It’s the tale of a clumsy sloth named Sid (voiced by John Leguizamo) who teams up with a grumpy mammoth named Manny (Ray Romano) and Diego (Denis Leary), a sabretooth tiger with questionable ethics, as they try to return a baby human to his parents. There will be various adventures on the way, they’ll all learn a little about themselves, and Diego, who’s got a plan to turn the baby over to his fellow tigers, may just have a change of heart by the third act.
"On par with the Pixar crowd."
So as far as stories go, this one’s nothing new. But come on, does it matter? It has everything you need to make the genre work wonders: lots of laughs, cute characters, a few scenes of sadness, and lots of warmth. There were moments that got me choked up and moments that made me smile.
Of course, all of this is padded with the usual laughs. The voice cast does a remarkable job here, especially Romano, who makes his film debut in a grand way. The comic gives Manny a delightful charm simply by being, well, Ray Romano. You know the voice - a little grumpy, a little perturbed, but mostly caring in a paternal kind of way. When the story starts to get sappy, Romano’s performance keeps it all at just the right level.
As for Leary and Leguizamo, they hold their own, with Leary being himself and Leguizamo giving a surprisingly good turn as Sid. He’s the right voice for the fast-talking, lispy sloth who’s as lovable as he is troublesome. The film also includes some other fine performers in smaller roles, such as Goran Visnjic, Jack Black, Stephen Root, Cedric the Entertainer, Diedrich Bader, Alan Tudyk, and Jane Krakowski. All help to create a truly enjoyable work.
But “Ice Age” wouldn’t be enjoyable without a sharp script and sharper animation. The screenplay, from Peter Ackerman, Michael Berg, and Michael J. Wilson, is loaded with great one-liners and loopy comic bits, while the animation staff brings the whole thing to life with terrific comic timing.
The animation is best used with a running gag regarding “Scrat,” a squirrel-rat creature who keeps popping up throughout the action, trying to gather acorns for the winter. It’s a masterpiece of cartoon slapstick, with the poor fella’s misadventures allowing for great physical comedy on par with the best Warner Brothers cartoons.
But the animation is not used merely for sight gags. Just watch the recurring close-ups of Manny’s face as he encounters humans. There’s something there in his eyes; it’s hard to describe, but it gives the audience the sense that this is more than a mere cartoon - it’s a living character.
“Ice Age” is filled with quiet moments like this, like the wordless scenes featuring the baby’s father as he tries to find his child. (It’s interesting to note that the only animals that don’t speak are Scrat and the humans.) The payoff at the film’s end is truly priceless.
I’m reminded of “Monsters, Inc.” There’s the adorable human child left to make friends with wild beasts who are actually kind souls. There’s the endless humor and the underlying sweetness. And there’s the animation that’s quite gorgeous at times. (It’s not as eye-popping as “Monsters,” but there’s still plenty of great stuff to see.)So am I a sucker for kid-centric computer animation? Maybe. But when the movies are as good as “Ice Age,” I don’t mind being a sucker.
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originally posted: 03/10/05 23:54:28