Ice Age
review by Elias Savada, 22 March 2002

Anxious coaches and general managers at Twentieth Century-Fox, the studio distributing Ice Age, were caught in a last-out, last-strike situation in advance of their new animated film's debut. Their demoralized dugout was filled with debris from earlier disastrous cartoon outings (Monkeybone and Titan A.E. being massive shutouts) and they were feeling like a pair of smelly old gym socks. Frantic, they called up minor league pinch hitter Chris Wedge (a rookie director who socked a homer back in 1998 with the Oscar Award winning animated short Bunny) from the White Plains' (New York) Blue Sky Studio, Fox's wholly owned farm team. What were they expecting? A base hit? Extra bases? Winning one for the gipper? Another sports cliché? Certainly not the madness that ensued with the biggest opening weekend for any film in March and the largest ever for a non-Disney animated feature, even out-hustling last May's Shrek. With a mild assist from the Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones trailer attached to the front end of the witty and quick-paced eighty-one-minute toon, Wedge (and co-director Carlos Saldanha) won the game with one of the biggest grossing pix this spring. It's a keeper.

Taking a Bob Hope-Bing Crosby "road to" movie motif and bridging it with Chuck Jones/Roadrunner-style passages starring a scrawny rodent (voiced by Wedge) struggling with a prized plump acorn during the titular and turbulent chapter in our planet's recent history, there aren't many runs scored for the tried-and-true plot of a mammalian trio's quest to reunite a child with its tribe (all the beasts speak English and the homo sapiens just grunt, a point joked upon late in the film). Actually, if you've been going to the movies at all over the last year, you've probably seen many of the previews showcasing the antics of Scrat, the sniffling half rat/half squirrel, including starting the last big freeze-out (the film's opening bit) or being the frazzled target of an Acme-esque stroke of lightning. The critter's seemingly given more than a toon's allotted nine lives as each disaster would easily classify it for road-kill status.

Although the Great Ice Age began more than a million years ago, the filmmakers begin their tale just twenty millennia ago, during the last great push of ice across North America. The unsophisticated story aside, there is, however, a wonderful charm to the camaraderie among the computer-generated characters and the human vocalizations behind them. "Everybody Loves" Ray Romano's mildly sarcastic New York mannerisms embodies Manny, the woolly mammoth, in his unhappy yet reluctant partnering with Sid, a silly sloth inadvertently left behind in the mass migration. The latter is an annoyingly ingratiating buck-toothed creature, perfectly represented by the nagging, whinny voice of the always energetic John "Freak" Leguizamo. The triumvirate is completed by a calculating saber-toothed tiger, Diego (Denis Leary, ably juggling fire with comedy), a tracker whose ultimate, secret agenda for the human infant they are caring for is not hidden from Manny. The slapstick pairing of the knowledgeable mastodon and the highly-devolved sloth mimic that same love-hate relationship that so captivated audiences with Shrek and his sidekick, Donkey. Such stuff everlasting friendships are made of. And sequels.

The trio head against the traffic ("up the street" I believe one of them calls it) and prevailing common sense of the frigid terrain, as Manny, Sid, and Diego battle mean-hearted rhinos (Cedric the Entertainer and Stephen Root); a multitude of melon-headed, militaristic Tae Kwan Dodos; bad weather (as if there was such a thing as "good" climate back then); cataclysmic geological changes; and Diego's tiger pack's vengeful leader Soto (Goran Visnjic). Lorri Bagley and Jane (Ally McBeal) Krakowski register hilariously in a brief stint as two attractive, unattached female sloths taking a mud-bath with and a liking to Sid and his "family" nature (as he cares for the infant). "Yeah, all the good ones get eaten," one commiserates to the other.

The startling digital colors and vivid 3-D imagery, particularly the rendering of rain and soaked animal fur, glow in your memory (and will not fade in the film's profitable post-theatrical home video era). There's plenty of amusing sight gags, a poop joke or two; hilarious junk food commentary; witty banter; an icy amusement ride; some sloth-boarding; a cute Star Trek reference; some somber and sacrificial moments; a nice score by David Newman; and tons of all-around fun up on the screen. Basically something for everyone. Yeah, stick around for the credits -- there's a 20,000 years later postscript.

So the management of Fox is to be congratulated on a bona fide hit. Outta da park. They have miraculously scaled the walls surrounding the cartoon castles of Disney and Dreamworks. The moats have turned to ice and the skating's just begun. Grab your skates and join the fun.

Directed by:
Chris Wedge
Carlos Saldanha

Ray Romano
John Leguizamo
Denis Leary
Goran Visnjic
Jack Black
Tara Strong

Written by:
Michael Berg
Michael J. Wilson
Peter Ackerman

PG - Parent Guidance
Some material may not
be appropriate for children..





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