Rated PG - Running Time: 1:26 - Released 3/15/02

Although Ice Age, the new comedy from Fox Animation Studios, directed by Carlos Saldanha and Chris Wedge, avails itself of the latest techniques in digital animation, one can't help but notice the striking plot similarities between it and other recent examples of the genre. Of course it's fun, and colorful, and includes some celebrity voices, but much of its story seems...well, borrowed. Its main plot involves a small, funny, self-absorbed character who invites himself to tag along with a big, strong, grouch (you know, like in Shrek?). Together they become unwillingly attached to a human infant that doesn't talk, but coos and wiggles and giggles its way into their hearts (you know, like in Monsters, Inc.?). Finally, the group must trek across many miles with no food or water while dodging predators (you know, like in Dinosaur?). Still, Ice Age, co-written by relative newcomers Michael J. Wilson, Michael Berg, and Peter Ackerman (based on Wilson's story), has just enough originality to succeed in its own right, and that it does.

As its title would suggest, Ice Age takes place in prehistoric times, when the Earth is on its way toward a global deep-freeze. All the animals must migrate south in order to stay alive, but Manfred the mammoth (voice of Ray Romano) isn't interested in travel. Defiantly walking in the other direction, Manny soon meets Sid the Sloth (John Leguizamo), an overly friendly, lisping animal who's a lot more hyperactive than any sloth I ever heard of. Just after Manny saves Sid from a couple of vengeful and possibly homosexual rhinos, they find a human baby that is about to be eaten by a pack of sabre-tooth tigers led by Diego (Denis Leary). Snatching the child out of harm's way, they decide to find its parents. Diego offers to help with his keen tracking abilities, but really he's planning to draw Manny, Sid, and the baby into a trap. However, he bonds with the others during their arduous trek, and is soon forced to choose between his new friends and his loyalty to the pack.

This film's success is based not only upon the antics of our small group of friends, but those of a bug-eyed, prehistoric squirrel-like creature we follow off and on throughout the film in his futile attempts to secure a precious acorn. But in terms of overall quality, it is frankly inferior to the recent animated releases of Disney and Dreamworks. Its humor is mostly of the slapstick variety with very little subtlety, and the characterizations are not exactly memorable, especially given the range of talent involved. Also, the story either ignores or glosses over several practical issues (i.e., food and water) that would certainly come up in such a circumstance (I remember thinking along the same lines with Dinosaur). But despite its flaws, Ice Age is fun and mercifully short, providing your youngsters enough time to finish their popcorn, but not enough to start fidgeting. ****

Copyright 2002 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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