- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 30, 2006

Perhaps you recognize the story: Melting ice caps threaten to drown all living creatures unless they devise a way to escape rising waters. It’s been in the news a bit lately, and now it’s also the plot of “Ice Age: The Meltdown,” the follow-up to 2002’s computer-animated hit “Ice Age.”

Good timing, Twentieth Century Fox.

Instead of proselytizing about conservation and global warming, however, the flick uses environmental doom as the backdrop against which inter-critter relationships and growth occur. Far from gloomy, the sequel brims with punchy one-liners, campy singalongs — including a clever but way eerie rendition of “Food Glorious Food” — and a hefty dose of that nutty acorn-obsessed squirrel, Scrat, that begins with the very first scene and doesn’t stop until the movie does.

Amid all the laughs, audiences find that the familiar three-animal “herd” — Manfred the mammoth (Ray Romano), Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo) and Diego the saber-toothed tiger (Denis Leary) — has grown up and gained dimension on several levels since last seen.

Visually, new animation technology makes the creatures look more realistic than ever. Personally, each has matured enough to recognize the obstacle he must overcome. Sid, like Rodney Dangerfield, just wants a little “rethspect.” Manny is ready for love, if he could just find another mammoth. Diego, less predacious than before, is actually a bit of a scaredy cat. Together, they’ll find what they seek and then some.

When the protagonists discover their home will soon become a swimming pool, they — along with hundreds of other animals — embark on a journey to the other side of the valley, where a boat supposedly awaits. (How very Noah’s Ark.) En route, the threesome encounters all manner of characters from singing and dancing minisloths to ravenous prehistoric beasts. Some provide comic relief (hail the dung beetles), some will scare the dickens out of little ones, and some just overpopulate the script. Still others become traveling companions, like the family of “possums” — more precisely, two possums and Ellie (Queen Latifah), a female mammoth who thinks she’s a possum — that Manny and buddies adopt.

And then there were six, perhaps three too many. The possum brothers do initiate some fun episodes, but Ellie, despite her eccentricities, feels like a stock character and doesn’t add much beyond a female voice and hope for Manny’s species.

The veteran Sid, on the other hand, is the real standout here, serving as both sage counselor and stand-up comedian. He’s the glue holding not only the group, but the movie together. In the end he earns the “rethspect” he craves from fellow cast and audience alike.

“Ice Age: The Meltdown” indeed delivers a solid, entertaining story for all ages, but with so many characters running amok it also succeeds in illustrating one major cause of meltdown: too many creatures vying for limited resources — like our attention.

Perhaps the filmmakers could take a lesson from Scrat: try to amass too many acorns and you risk losing them all. Pick only the best, however, and you might just end up with a full belly.

**1/2

TITLE: “Ice Age: The Meltdown”

RATING: PG, for menacing animals and perilous situations

CREDITS: Directed by Carlos Saldanha. Written by Peter Gaulke, Gerry Swallow and Jim Hecht.

RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes

WEB SITE: www.iceagemovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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