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Ice Age: The Meltdown

The first

Ice Age

, made in 2002, proved that in 20,000 years of evolution some things never change. Heroes always need a silly sidekick, potty humor works for all ages, and anything that involves falling, hitting, slipping, or sliding is funny, especially if someone gets hurt. That film opened with something of a tribute to the animated short

Bambi Meets Godzilla

as a happy little creature is abruptly stomped by a huge mammoth foot. And that was a pretty good introduction to what you got in

Ice Age 1,

broad slapstick comedy. Directed by Chris Wedge,

Ice Age

was happy with its diaper jokes, pratfalls and generally lowbrow humor.

But Ice Age: The Meltdown isn't content to aim low. It has higher ambitions and tends to leave the vaudeville-style humor behind for a more Disney-themed animation comedy. We now feel the weight of a 'message' bearing down on the comedy. We get lessons in family and getting along, while bathroom humor has been flushed down the toilet. There are still a few pratfalls but this Ice Age lacks the goofball personality of the first film.

Manny (voiced by Ray Romano), the somewhat misanthropic mammoth, is still hanging out with Sid (John Leguizamo), a sloth, and Diego (Denis Leary), a saber-tooth tiger. But this time out, our 'sub-zero heroes' are dealing with an Ice Age that's coming to an end. Initially, the melting ice world provides a kind of water land amusement park. But soon the animals grow concerned about a glacier dam, weakened by the warming climate, bursting and flooding their valley. So once again the little herd of Manny, Sid and Diego set off on a journey. As they seek higher ground, they're joined by Ellie (Queen Latifah), a woolly mammoth that thinks she's a possum, and her two possum brothers Crash and Eddie (Seann William Scott and Josh Peck). Scurrying around the periphery of the film is Scrat (whose whimpering and exclamations are voiced by Chris Wedge), that lovable rodent-like creature who just can't seem to hold on to his beloved acorn.

The voice talent as with the first film remains good. Romano and Leary are refreshingly low key, letting Leguizamo ham it up as Sid. To compensate for the major lack of female talent in the first film, this Ice Age craves out a good size role for Queen Latifah who does a nice job voicing Ellie and engaging Manny in a love-hate relationship.

Whereas the first Ice Age suggested messages about the need for family and accepting diversity without doing any heavy-handed preaching, Ice Age 2 works hard to hammer its messages home. In addition, it sets up a dark mood that overhangs the entire film as Manny worries about extinction (which in reality will be the fate of the woolly mammoths) and the animals all fear that the warming weather will bring an end to their world (and the truth is that for many animals, the end of the Ice Age was the end of their existence). So with this dark cloud hanging over events and repeatedly emphasized, the film has to work harder for its laughs and then has to avoid a lot of facts in order to reach its cheery resolution.

As for the animation, it serves up a more cartoonish use of digital animation with the animals tweaked and exaggerated to match their personalities. The animals' fur looks great but there's less care taken with creating effective ice effects.

The Meltdown was directed by Carlos Saldanha, who served as co-director with Chris Wedge on both the original Ice Age and on the more recent Robots . Wedge, who had co-wrote and co-directed Ice Age , now only serves as producer and his lack of significant creative input on The Meltdown hurts the sequel. Saldanha and his team of writers lack the refreshing silliness that Wedge endowed the first Ice Age with, and don't replace it with anything better.

Ice Age: The Meltdown (rated PG for mild language and innuendo) is predictably less enjoyable than its predecessor. It delivers a far more conventional product and fewer laughs. But I still find Scrat's misadventures enjoyable to watch. This is definitely geared at kids and with little else competing with it for that market, it's destined to do well.

Companion viewing: Ice Age, Quest for Fire, Robots -----

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