Saturday 7 July 2012

From the archive: "Ice Age: The Meltdown"

Before the main feature at the screening of Ice Age: The Meltdown I attended, there were inserted trailers for three or four computer-generated animations, all due out later this year. Both more and less promising-looking, these trailers are proof, if nothing else, of the increased efficiency of processor chips. A decade ago, in the immediate wake of Toy Story, we made do with one of these labours of computer love a year. Yet where Pixar once stressed the difficulties of rendering photorealistic fur for Monsters, Inc. and water for Finding Nemo, now one of their rivals, the Fox-affiliated Blue Sky Studios, can pull off, without much in the way of fanfare, an underwater fight involving a woolly mammoth. Water is everywhere here, in a film where the theme is set from the opening line ("This global warming is killing me"). Our returning heroes - doleful mammoth Manny (voiced by Ray Romano), idiotic sloth Sid (John Leguizamo) and sabre-toothed tiger Diego (Denis Leary) - now find their homeland under threat from a glacier dam about to crack and flood. On their journey towards safety, each has issues to deal with: Manny is plagued by extinction worries, Sid wants some respect, and Diego clearly needs to learn to swim.

Too many of these CG films are now coming out for all of them to cross the river separating genuine artistic achievement from the merely routine. The more mediocre offerings - Universal's Madagascar, Disney's Chicken Little - remind one that the Toy Story films' real asset wasn't technical, but really great screenwriting. Where Pixar's artistry today merits a London exhibition celebrating the company's work, Ice Age: The Meltdown errs on the side of solid, unspectacular product. There's a hint of half-term filler about the script, which goes through the motions of ticking off plot points and sending out largely positive messages before arriving at an arbitrary ending only defined as happy because the flood waters run off somewhere else. (Tell that to the folks in New Orleans.) Still, it wins points for heterogenous voicecasting - the addition of Queen Latifah to the ranks (as Ellie, a confused mammoth) can only be a good thing - and the characterisation is just about strong enough to merit a second outing. Both Ice Age films also have the bonus of the only CG character to date who wouldn't be out of place in a Chuck Jones/Looney Tunes cartoon: the squirrel-cum-muskrat looking to hoard an acorn that seems forever to be out of his reach. It's a metaphor for happiness, you know.

(April 2006)

Ice Age: The Meltdown is available on DVD through Fox. 

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