With the Toy Storys and Antz now occupying a permanent place on the shelves of the nation's big and little kids, and the likes of Shrek, Monsters, Inc. and Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius performing solid to spectacularly at the box-office in the last twelve months, Fox have decided to enter into the field of computer animation, and have done so with considerable success. Ice Age's story is a popsicle twist on Three Men and a Baby - human child washes up in the possession of a trio of unlikely, variously hairy specimens - which was itself a spin on the quirky Ford/Wayne Western Three Godfathers. Evolution being what it was in the Ice Age, we get a woolly mammoth, a sharp-toothed predator and a lazy sloth in the place of Tom Selleck, Ted Danson and Steve Guttenberg, but this twenty-first century retelling rather pleasingly preserves the essentially cynical element of the Ford movie, in that the leads keep threatening to double-cross one another and use the baby for their own ends: the tiger to draw the other two into an ambush, the mammoth as a memento of his own family, and the sloth to pick up single females (who have good cause to lament "all the sensitive males get eaten").
Anybody whose age extends into double figures is liable to question the film's grasp of evolutionary history - our heroes contrive to discover fire, as well as inventing snowboarding and same-sex parenting, on their travels - but its irreverent approach is the polar opposite of Disney's ponderous Dinosaur. Inventive even when the moralising kicks in - this must be the first animated feature to use cave paintings as a way of sketching in backstory - Ice Age even works in, in the running gag involving a nervy musk rat and an ever-elusive nut, what could be read as a cartoonish parable of the chaos each species wreaks when they reach for that which lies beyond their immediate grasp. This aspect plays like a Chuck Jones skit on The Lion King's po-faced "circle of life" eco-system, and is resolved in a "20,000 Years Later" coda whose giant leap forward might only be rivalled by the notorious monkey-to-machine match cut in Kubrick's 2001. Ice Age has more great gags than Monsters, Inc., whose comic possibilities were determined and limited by its endless, interchangeable network of corporate corridors; here, the location is the vast outdoors, allowing the animation to extend to photorealistic hailstorms, running water and aardvark shit - but there's just as much artistry in one single sequence set in immense ice caverns whose walls give back subtle reflections as the protagonists pass through.
Ice Age is available on DVD through Fox.