|Ice Age 2: The Meltdown (2006)
Starring: Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, Queen Latifah, Jay Leno, Seann William Scott
Director: Carlos Saldanha
The best thing that can be said for “Ice Age: The Meltdown” is that it is one of the rare sequels that bests its predecessor. But the truth is that that is a lot like saying that “Shrek 2” was better than “Shrek”; one may indeed be better than the other, but neither is particularly good. (To the “Shrek” fans that are reading this: don’t bother wasting your time telling me how “wrong” I am. You’re just wasting your time.) Still, it is an improvement, which makes it all the more frustrating that the makings were there for something even better.
In a convenient retro-fitting of the timeline, the movie begins at the end of the Ice Age. The valley where Manny the mammoth (Ray Romano), Diego the saber-toothed tiger (Denis Leary) and Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo) call home now has a water park. After Sid makes an unsuccessful attempt to assert his manhood (don’t ask), he, Manny and Diego realize that the wall of ice at their end of the valley is about to break, which would flood their home. A vulture (an underused Will Arnett) informs them that there is a boat on the other end of the valley, and while the animals make their trek to the boat, Manny runs into another mammoth named Ellie (Queen Latifah). Manny is thrilled, since he thought that he was the last mammoth still living. The problem, though, is that Ellie thinks she’s a possum.
Not a terribly thrilling setup, true, but at least they were smart enough to make better use of their most valuable player. That’s right, Scrat, the saber-toothed squirrel that provided the funniest moments in the original, appears in a parallel storyline throughout the sequel, as opposed to being merely a bookend. This is good, in that his mere presence onscreen is enough to invoke giggles, but it’s bad in that it exposes the flaws of what is supposed to be the more important story. Do we care about Manny and Ellie winding up together? Do we care if Diego learns to swim, or if anyone ever pays Sid any respect? No, but dammit, has Scrat gotten that acorn yet? Now, that is drama, right there. Crash and Eddie (Seann William Scott and Josh Peck, respectively) provide some much-needed comic support to the main storyline as Ellie’s possum brothers – the whack-a-mole bit is sublime – but their so-hip-it-hurts dialogue and physical gestures, in comparison to the genius physical comedy of Scrat, comes off as overcompensation on behalf of the writers. They should have focused on being witty, not trendy. Diego, in particular, sounds neutered, especially when voiced by someone with a voice as caustic as Leary’s.
What ultimately kills the movie are the inexplicable leaps in logic for the sake of advancing the storytelling or raising the tension. When Sid attempts to kill himself, Manny and Diego go from the base of the ice wall to the top of the wall in seconds. Yes, Manny, the mammoth, climbs up a faceless wall of ice in seconds. Ellie, meanwhile, begins a flashback in daylight, and 30 seconds later, finishes it at night. Then there’s the bit where everyone is suddenly precariously balanced on some rocks, with two mammoths keeping them all from falling to their deaths. It may be thrilling for the kids, but every adult is going to be thinking, “What the…?” Dismiss it as “Ah, it’s a movie for kids” if you want, but remember; the best movies aimed at children, and not just the animated ones, entertain people of all ages. Not only that, the Warner Brothers cartoons of the ‘40s and ‘50s, which are clearly the inspiration for Scrat, were never made for children in the first place. Therefore, to give the filmmakers a free pass for only making a movie for kids is basically giving them the right to pander. Maybe other critics will give them that leeway, but not me.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect about “Ice Age: The Meltdown” is that they have effectively stripped themselves of making a third installment, since the Ice Age has just ended. When on earth was the last time you saw that? These movies are all about franchise potential, even if it means making shitty sequel after shitty sequel instead of making one killer movie. You almost have to hand it to them…but then again, maybe they did it because even they knew that they had already tested any and all limits of believability. Quitting while you’re ahead: it’s the new Hackman/Caine Principle.
There are two audio commentaries, one of which features about 15 different animators, supervisors and writers. The best extra by far is “Time for Nuts,” a hilarious short film featuring Scrat and his adventures with a time machine. The other extras are cute but inconsequential, with the possible exception of the sound effects lab re-cutting the sound for Scrat’s piranha confrontation using animals, cars, classic cartoon sound effects and, um, human noises (the bathroom kind). Yes, there is an exclusive first look at the “Simpsons” movie, but it’s a rough, rough first look (sketches with Dan Castalanetta’s voice), and a short one at that.