In the original Ice Age Manny the mammoth (Ray Romano), Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo) and Deigo the sabre-toothed tiger (Denis Leary) formed the most unusual “herd” in history and rescued a human baby. This time around our three unlikely heroes must rescue themselves. The climate has begun to change, signalling the end of the ice age. While their fellow creatures rejoice in the warm weather and the prehistoric water park that the melting ice has created, Manny realises that the glacier surrounding their valley is the only thing holding back an ocean of water. Their only hope is to flee across the valley before this dam melts. But their journey is not all bad as along the way they meet some new friends: a pair of hyperactive possums named Crash and Eddie (Seann William Scott and Josh Peck), and their extremely confused “sister” Ellie (Queen Latifah).
Sequels that improve on a successful original film are a rare event, but Ice Age: The Meltdown has managed to do so by a large margin. The sequel is funnier, snappier and more polished than its predecessor, not to mention grander in scale and more adventurous in staging.
Of course, you could argue that the first film left a lot of room for improvement. Its success hinged heavily on the madcap inventiveness of its visuals and the lovability of its unlikely heroes. But compared to more sophisticated competitors like Pixar and Dreamworks, Blue Sky Studios’ early work was quite rough and ready. That didn’t stop Ice Age becoming a roaring success at the box offices, proving that audiences react better to broad humour and original presentation than technical virtuosity and urbane plotting.
With The Meltdown it is clear Blue Sky have learned from their mistakes and are playing to their strengths. For one they concentrate more heavily on the fluid physical comedy that made the first film so much fun to watch. In particular the hilariously hapless Scrat takes up nearly a third of the screen time in pursuit of his elusive acorn. It’s a tribute to director Carlos Saldanha that this running joke, which should have become tired long ago already, is still as funny as ever.
Another strength is the film’s unusually well-moulded characters. Aided by a snappy script, the voice actors have injected their animated counterparts with some real warmth and personality. John Leguizamo is particularly good as the wise-cracking Sid, but it’s the warm baritone of Ray Romano that really anchors the picture. Rather than cluttering the action, the new characters only add to the fun. Crash and Eddie are particularly humorous, although this is due more to the skill of the animators than the rather mediocre voice performances.
Where the film does fall down is in its formulaic plotting. Apart from the unusual setting and characters – both inherited from the first film – the plot could have been lifted from three dozen other animated (and live action) family adventure films. To a certain extent this oatmeal-like predictability actually works to the film’s advantage. Like a traditional Christmas Pantomime, The Meltdown works best when it is in the midst of merry visual or verbal hijinks. The plot merely serves as a convenient vehicle to move the characters between amusing interludes.
But such quibbles will concern most audiences very little, and this is something Blue Sky have realised and capitalised on. Comparing their films to the almost arty sophistication of Pixar has now become a moot point. Blue Sky are aiming directly at the broad appeal that their more worldly competitors now see as “kids’ stuff”. And while we can’t expect insightful social commentary or biting political satire from them, we can certainly enjoy a good clean chuckle.
Blue Sky Studios have pulled off a very rare feat – a sequel that is better than its hugely successful predecessor.
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