I hated Ice Age. The prehistoric road-trip comedy arrived in theaters on the heels of the superior Shrek and paled in comparison. Even judged on its own merits, Age moved like a two-ton glacier, suffered from a by-the-numbers screenplay that failed to take one risk, and overdosed on sadistic slapstick humor last utilized by the animators of Tom and Jerry.
Needless to say, it went on to gross more than $176 million at the box office. A sequel was inevitable, and thanks to my chosen profession, unavoidable. I was prepared for the worst. Article continues below
Would you believe I thoroughly enjoyed it?
There’s so much more energy to this radiant new Age, subtitled The Meltdown because it occurs during a period of natural thaw. The frozen tundras of the first film are melting, creating the potential for flood. The sequel’s plot involves yet another trek for the primary herd, this time to the end of the valley where a boat-shaped rock structure waits to carry animals to safety.
The first movie’s successes benefit the sequel. With more money to put back into the franchise, the animation shows vast improvements. The fleshy animals are fleshier, the furry characters furrier. There’s real beauty and color to this evaporating world, captured by director Carlos Saldanha (who co-directed the first Age with creator Chris Wedge.
The meltdown is one of many problems established for the movie’s main characters. Wooly mammoth Manny (Ray Romano) faces new anxieties. He hasn’t seen his brethren roaming around and wonders if extinction is on the horizon. Saber-toothed tiger Diego (Denis Leary) confronts his own fear of water in a world that’s becoming increasingly wet. And Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo) struggles to discover his niche in this ever-evolving herd.
Age takes the Lethal Weapon approach to sequels, adding several new personalities that tend to crowd the scene. Manny finds a love interest in Ellie (Queen Latifah), a mammoth convinced she’s a possum. Her dynamic possum brothers, Crash (Seann William Scott) and Eddie (Josh Peck), provide two times the lunacy Leguizamo brought to the original film.
Interesting supporting characters even hover around the main action. Fast Tony (Jay Leno) is a shyster capitalizing on natural disasters. Will Arnett (Arrested Development) plays a hungry vulture hovering over the migrating herd and waiting for tired animals to drop – there a hilariously macabre musical number that’s set to Lionel Bart’s "Food, Glorious Food" from Oliver! And of course, there’s more Scrat, the paranoid squirrel who pursues an acorn like Charlie Brown bearing down on a football.
The difference boils down to Jon Vitti’s sharp script, a smarter and funnier adventure that taps into our current culture of fear and transmits the nation’s concerns to the creatures that survived the ice age. Vitti’s writing credits include The Simpsons, The Critic, Saturday Night Live, and The Larry Sanders Show. His jokes resonate while maintaining the elements that made Age a hit. Risqué jokes about re-populating the planet may be inappropriate for the youngest species in the crowd. Otherwise, Age sails by on warm sentiments about finding one’s family and accepting your identity.