"Ice Age 2: The Meltdown" is a very well-marketed film; most of the trailers predominately feature the squirrel Scrat. Unfortunately, the film is not all about this little guy and his elaborate adventures trying to find an acorn in the frozen tundra.
Manny (Ray Romano), a wooly mammoth, Sid (John Leguizamo), a sloth, and Diego (Dennis Leary), a saber-toothed tiger, learn the valley they live will soon flood and lead an exodus of a variety of other animals to high ground. Along the way, Manny begins to think he may be the last living mammoth and experiences loneliness. During the journey, they meet Ellie (Queen Latifah), another mammoth who thinks she is a possum, and her two possum brothers, Crash (Seann William Scott) and Eddie (Josh Peck). They band together, trying to keep one step ahead of the vultures following them, waiting for a carcass to chew on.
The "Ice Age" films have some beautiful animation. Manny, Sid and Diego are all very interesting to watch and their design is very advanced. With the addition of Ellie, Crash and Eddie, the main characters all appear to be just a couple of steps removed from the real thing. It appears that every hair of their fur was individually hand drawn (of course, it wasn't) giving them a fairly realistic appearance. The backgrounds and scenery also have a serene, strange beauty. All of the ice helps to make everything appear very modern and sleek.
Some of the other animals appear just strange. Remember the dolls which used to have soft, animal bodies, but plastic faces which were closer to that of children? In an early scene, when we first meet all of the animals living in this valley, some of the characters resemble those dolls. If you thought the dolls were creepy, these characters are equally strange. It almost appears as though the animators were using the original voice actor's faces but then didn't continue the animation process, as though they ran out of time. Or they couldn't decide what a version of the animal should look like.
The saving grace for these films is the little squirrel, Scrat. The segments featuring this character were the highlight of the first film. Almost a year ago, Fox began running trailers featuring only this character, highlighting two things. The second being a sequel to "Ice Age" is on the way. The most important thing this early trailer told the public was the filmmakers realized this is the true selling point of the film. Everything else is filler. These sequences are madcap, funny and pay homage to the great Looney Tunes shorts of the 40s and 50s. For this sequel, the filmmakers have correctly added more sequences featuring him. The adventures of this little squirrel trying to hold on to a single acorn are what made the majority of the people in the audience laugh during the screening I attended. Parents and children alike chuckled as the determined little creature would do anything to get his precious food.
The laughter subsided, quite a bit, during the rest of the film. Ray Romano is a funny guy, but a lot of his skill comes from his facial expressions, looks of bewilderment, the slow burn, a wicked grin. It is next to impossible to translate these same facial expressions to a large wooly mammoth. His vocalizations are much too low key and somber for an animated film. Because of this, Manny is boring. Leguizamo fares better. He creates a character with his voice, giving Syd, the sloth, the perfect tone to balance the animal's character. Leary's work is also good, but his character is the serious, level-headed one, so he never does anything which might be considered remotely funny.
The addition of Queen Latifah as Ellie, the female wooly mammoth, is an interesting choice. Latifah is a very talented woman, but she is the female equivalent of Ray Romano. Both have interesting voices, but their deliveries are too earnest, too slow, and too monotonous for an animated film. Seann William Scott and Josh Peck, as Ellie's adopted possum brothers, are the only characters who even begin to come close to animated hijinks promised by Scrat. The two possum brothers are frantic, antic and into ancient versions of extreme sports, giving them a liveliness that brings memories of the Looney Tunes cartoons to life.
The story is fairly dull. These characters have to leave the valley. Yeah, it's as interesting as it sounds. The filmmakers seem to have realized the potential boredom factor and created a number of obstacles along the way; a group of vultures sing a song, a herd of mini sloths capture Sid. But it isn't enough to make this film rival the best of Disney or Pixar. The only thing that helps are the sequences with the little squirrel. While Scrat has more appearances during this sequel, we still have to sit through many minutes of the main character's journey through the valley. And many minutes of pretty boredom.
But as great as Scrat's sequences are, they really have no connection to the main story. In both films, they seem tacked on, to liven up the proceedings, to help remind people that we are actually watching an animated film. Imagine how great it would be if Scrat were integrated into the remainder of the film? Then, we might have something worth taking the kids to, something worth inviting your adult friends to, something worth remembering.