- The Washington Times - Friday, March 15, 2002

"Ice Age" fulfills the comic promise of its original trailer, which achieved classic status among frequent moviegoers when it surfaced last fall.
The film, despite a lull here and slack episode there, proves worthy of the tease, now revealed to be a breathtaking digest of the movie's prologue. The cartoon critterintroduced in the trailer, a scrawny and frenzied squirrel trying to prevent an acorn from getting torn from his grasp by a hard-charging avalanche, becomes a fitful participant in the complete version. An inspired variation on Chuck Jones' Wile E. Coyote, Scrat the squirrel makes recurrent encores while still desperately intent on clutching or burying his precious nut.
"Ice Age" revolves around a trio of misfit creatures that end up protecting an orphaned human infant separated from an Indian mother who has gone to great lengths to shield the baby from a pack of saber-toothed tigers. One of the valiant protectors is a nominally treacherous tiger called Diego, effectively dubbed by Denis Leary. The other two are a ponderous, introspective, imposingly paternal woolly mammoth called Manny (voiced by Ray Romano, who proves equal to the indispensable notes of authority and dependability) and a panicky chatterbox sloth called Sid (John Leguizamo on his good behavior, deftly matching street vernacular and sensibility with a cartoon animal masquerade).
Strangers at the outset, the principal characters are singled out from hordes of creatures migrating south to keep slightly ahead of a North American glacier. The huge mass of moving ice may have been provoked by Scrat and is burying habitats while advancing rapidly. The time frame is about 20,000 years in the past.
Manny's lone-wolf tendencies are established by the fact that he's traveling against the flow. Sid attaches himself in hopes of gaining a protector. Then fate turns them into baby sitters. Diego joins the group with ulterior motives that obviously are no match for a better nature.
Press material for the film alludes to "The Incredible Journey" and "Three Men and a Baby" as plot forerunners, but the most satisfying family resemblance links "Ice Age" to the 1949 John Ford-John Wayne Western "Three Godfathers," which celebrates the redemption of three outlaws who end up with a foundling to save and a desert to cross after fleeing a posse.
Blue Sky, the computer-animation company that made the film, looms as a skillful rival to Pixar. Blue Sky imagery attractively matches economy and luster. The movie also reflects care with story construction and character delineation. Recently, only Pixar has demonstrated a keen, not to mention unerring, sense of obligation about perfecting comic adventure fables. If the people at Blue Sky want to set a similar example, bless 'em.
One of the most impressive and delightful comic runs in "Ice Age" is triggered by funneling the characters into a subterranean ice wonderland that blends features of an amusement park with a satiric natural history museum. A flurry of evolutionary gags in the museum "displays" becomes the preamble to a stirring interlude. Manny is confronted with a wall painting that allows him to get an even stronger hold on our esteem, in part because his expressive eyes seem more touching and because composer David Newman underscores the moment effectively. Best of all, the animators credit Manny with thought processes that seem to "invent" animation itself.
Scrat and his nut keep crossing paths with the godfathers, but the squirrel remains too preoccupied and fugitive to become a fourth godfather.
Blue Sky clearly has started off with a strong cartoon menagerie. One minor slip-up weakens the epilogue with Scrat: The animators already have used a flamboyant kind of calamity that is supposed to be the topper when the squirrel suffers his final sucker punch from Mother Nature. It would have been preferable to reserve this kicker for Scrat alone.


***1/2
TITLE: "Ice Age"
RATING: PG (Occasional ominous episodes and fleeting comic vulgarity, but it could have been rated G with a clear conscience)
CREDITS: Directed by Chris Wedge. Co-directed by Carlos Saldanha. Screenplay by Michael Berg, Michael J. Wilson and Peter Ackerman. Production design by Brian P. McEntee.
RUNNING TIME: 75 minutes
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS



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