(PG) 3 Stars

Ed Johnson-Ott

As I'll be doing a considerable amount of complaining in a moment, it's important to also accentuate the positive, so here goes: As far as sub-Pixar computer-generated cartoon features go, Ice Age: The Meltdown is a perfectly serviceable little sequel. The filmmakers work in a steady stream of gags and some of them are quite funny. At the screening I attended, the kids seemed to enjoy themselves and the adults didn't fidget much.

Here's the thing, though. When the original Ice Age came out in 2002 and was dismissed as a crude Pixar wannabe, I defended it. Sure, the animation was far below the mark set by the Pixar folks with Toy Story and raised by each subsequent release, but Ice Age was visually striking in its own way, as the animated light played off the whites of its frozen landscape.

Though the animation in Ice Age 2 is better than its predecessor (the figures are less blocky), there is a lot less ice this time around and the defrosting landscapes offer little to intrigue the eye.

But then the whole movie is less intriguing. Like many people, I catch myself checking my watch a lot while sitting through an underwhelming flick. With Ice Age 2, I got a mental picture of the filmmakers checking their watches, saying, "OK, we have to pad this out to roughly 80 minutes. What can we throw in to kill some time?" The result? There is barely any story, merely a series of episodes.

The original film introduced a wooly mammoth named Manny (voiced by Ray Romano), a saber-toothed tiger called Diego (Denis Leary) and a sloth known as Sid (John Leguizamo). The cranky prehistoric trio reluctantly agrees to work together in order to return a human baby to its tribe. In real life, Romano, Leary and Leguizamo are abrasive actors, which helped create a sense of tension between them that added some bite to the comedy.

You'll find nothing resembling bite this time around. Manny, Diego and Sid are old buddies now. They may squabble, but they know deep down that the love is there. Good for them, but not for the screenplay. This time, Manny is depressed because he fears that he is the last of his kind. As for Diego and Sid, they fret about Manny, because that's what supporting players in movies do.

As the title indicates, the Ice Age is coming to an end, forcing the animals to flee their homeland, which will soon be flooded by melting ice. Sequels generally try to make up for their lack of originality by adding characters, and Ice Age 2 offers several, including a shifty armadillo named Fast Tony, voiced by crappy talk-show host Jay Leno.

Talk about abrasive.

More notable are Ellie (Queen Latifah), a female wooly mammoth who thinks she's a possum, and her daredevil possum "brothers" Crash (Seann William Scott) and Eddie (Josh Peck). If, like me, you perked up when you saw Queen Latifah's name, settle down, because her muted performance lacks the vitality she normally brings to films.

Once the players are assembled, they run through the various time-killers (or if you prefer, set pieces), some of which are funny, while others are flat (or in a few cases, simply odd).

Thankfully, Scrat, the twitching, bug-eyed hybrid of a rat and a squirrel from the first film, makes a welcome return here. Once again pursuing an acorn with dire consequences, Scrat pops up in riotous Looney Tunes-inspired vignettes nicely spaced throughout the movie.

Certainly, there is a lot of talent behind Ice Age: The Meltdown. What a shame that this sequel plays out like most sequels. Serviceable, but unnecessary.


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