Watching “Ice Age,” Fox’s attempt at breaking the lucrative computer animated feature market, is like watching a greatest hits reel of recent successful animated features: Dinosaur, Shrek, and (most of all) Monsters, Inc. But to complain about the lack of originality is to ignore the real wit and joy behind this very fun film.
One valid nit to pick about “Ice Age” is the animation by Blue Sky Studios, which has a long way to go before it can compete visually with Disney collaborator Pixar or DreamWorks collaborator PDI. The character work is solid, with all the individual hairs and details on the central trio of slobby sloth Sid (voiced by John Leguizamo), moody mammoth Manfred (Ray Romano), and scheming sabre-toothed tiger Diego (Denis Leary) coming across on-screen with remarkable clarity. Where director Chris Wedge and crew fail are in the settings in which he places the characters. With the title “Ice Age,” comes a lot of ice and snow, and Wedge fails to keep it visually interesting. The shots of ice cracking look remarkably flat, almost like traditional 2-D cel animation; and a set piece involving lava isn’t quite the nailbiter it should be with the molten stuff looking less than threatening. One piece of animation that does make a striking impressino is a flashback told entirely through cave paintings, but the scene just brings to mind the more effective hieroglyphic nightmare sequence in “The Prince of Egypt.”
But it’s the characters that matter most in “Ice Age,” anyway, primarily the mismatched threesome of Sid, Manfred, and Diego. The outgoing Sid’s friendliness is a bit offset by his incesssantly chattering ways–which likely accounts for why his family migrated south for the cold season without telling him. That quality definitely accounts for why he so irritates Manfred, whom Sid latches onto as he goes against the grain and travels north. When an abandoned human child somehow comes into their care, Diego joins their fold, offering to lead Sid and Manfred to the humans’ camp. In actuality, Diego plans to lead them to his home camp of tigers, all of them hungry for some fresh human–and mammoth–meat.
This group does make a fun comic team, with Sid’s wisecracks and bumbling antics playing well off of straight men Manfred and Diego; and the kid is good for some cutesy giggles (though not as much as the unforgettable Boo in Monsters, Inc.). The funniest moments of “Ice Age,” though, come from sidebars to the main plot. One of the funniest sequences is a visit to a camp of do-do birds, wittily explaining why they were doomed to extinction. Best of all is the running subplot of the squirrel that was prominently featured in last summer’s well-received teaser for the film. That spot, with the squirrel attempting to store away an acorn, opens the film, and Wedge and his crew wisely trace his hilarious, movie-stealing travails throughout the film, down to the final frame.
And audiences are certain to enjoy “Ice Age” down to its final frame. It may not be a film for the ages like the Oscar-nominated Shrek and Monsters, Inc., but it delivers the all-ages, family-friendly entertainment it promises.