Director: Chris Wedge
Cast: The voices of Ray Ramono, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary
MPAA Rating: (for mild peril)
Running Time: 1:25
Release Date: 3/15/02
Review by Mark Dujsik
Computer animation has, in a relatively short time, seemed to replace traditional hand-drawn animation. In my mind, it never will, but so far the medium certainly has offered something for anyone looking for something visually stimulating. The technique allows a rich attention to detail as well as the capability for widely diverse style. Ice Age, the newest venture into the world of three-dimensional animation, unfortunately lacks the former but more than makes up for it with the latter. The movie is a technically advanced cartoon—in the best sense of the word—and definitely not an animated film. That’s where its charm comes from, though. It never attempts realism in situations or character design. Its humor is aimed at younger audiences or those who like a series of simple and to-the-point jokes. Both this lack of extreme detail and cartoonish content give Ice Age a style and feel all its own among computer animated films.
Well after the dinosaurs have become extinct and immediately before the ice age that followed begins, Sid the Sloth (voice of John Leguizamo) is abandoned by his family for the yearly migration. He gets into trouble with a couple of aggressive rhinos, but is saved by Manfred the Mammoth (voice of Ray Romano), who is heading in the opposite direction of every other mammal in the world—towards the oncoming winter. At the same time, a group of sabertooth tigers are hunting the humans that attacked them earlier. The plan is to take the leader of the tribe’s baby as revenge. The plan fails, and Sid and Manny eventually come across the tiny human and decide to take it back. Shortly after discovering the baby, Diego the Sabertooth (voice of Denis Leary) arrives, claiming to want to bring the child back as well. He has a hidden agenda, of course, as he was sent by his pack to retrieve the baby. Untrusting of Diego, Manfred decides to take him along but only as a guide to find the humans.
The story, basic as it is, is simply setup for a series of gags and adventures, and the movie is inventive and imaginative in coming up with its humor. The best jokes are the ones based in the backdrop. The most eye-catching sequence is a sliding chase through an icy cavern that takes the form of a French door comedy. The single funniest sequence that results from the main storyline, though, is a presentation of how the Dodo really became extinct. The entire scene has a demented and morbid sense of humor—the kind that occupied Shrek. The rest of the movie sustains itself as a comedy, but the most reliable and consistent source of laughs comes from a character who exists almost completely outside the main plot—a squirrel named Scrat. The movie seems to have started out as a short film about this determined but small-minded rodent trying to find a place in the harsh and frozen wasteland to bury an acorn.
The opening Scrat sequence is a great example to use to describe the style of the movie. Scrat himself is a character designed to look somewhat like the real-life subject he is based on while maintaining a distorted and exaggerated look to emphasize the unrealistic and cartoonish elements of the situations. As Scrat attempts to bury the acorn in the frozen ground, he starts a crack that goes straight up a glacier. The crack itself is a simple line running up the mass of ice with no attempt to make it seem believable in appearance. One the glacier begins closing in on Scrat, he is caught and squished so that his face expands until he pops out. This opening sequence establishes the spirit of the movie, so we don’t expect true-to-life character design. While humans are present as a major part of the movie, they look downright sloppy in comparison to the human characters in Shrek or Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, but they do not need to look realistic.
The characters in the movie slowly begin to grow on us as the simplicity of the plot slowly begins to show its wear. The voice acting is serviceable and fits the characters well, but they are not as memorable as we have grown accustomed to. The movie isn’t about its characters, though; it’s about its situations. Although it isn’t a technical marvel or a groundbreaking visual achievement, Ice Age is a solidly entertaining three-dimensional cartoon. Now, here’s hoping we see more of Scrat.
Copyright © 2002 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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