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Ice Age
Reviewed by Jason Myers, ©

Format: Movie
By:   Carlos Saldanha (director) and Chris Wedge (director)
Genre:   Animation / Fantasy
Released:   Released March 15, 2002
Review Date:  
Audience Rating:   Rated PG
RevSF Rating:   7/10 (What Is This?)

I challenge you to watch that wordless two-minute preview for Ice Age and not laugh. You know, the sadistic one where the scrawny scrat (squirrel + rat, or maybe just short for muskrat) tries to find a place to store his acorn, and ends up setting off a massive avalanche. It's so simple, a throwback to the Wyle E. Coyote cruelty-to-animals school of comedy. And yet it has a spare elegance to it. A dead-on sense of timing and a runt of a character who looks like he was born to have anvils dropped on him.

I was slightly disappointed to find out that Ice Age is not actually a 90-minute computer-generated Roger Rabbit cartoon. There's actually a pretty typical Disney-esque story to go with it. Manny the Mammoth (Ray Romano, sounding like the grumpy love child of Cliff and Norm from Cheers) and Sid the Sloth (John Leguizamo from Moulin Rouge, Spawn, and Romeo + Juliet) team up with a shady Sabertooth Tiger named Diego (Denis Leary) to return a lost human child to its tribe. But Ice Age is still worth going to, even if you don't have kids.

Ice Age is Twentieth Century Fox's foray into the blooming market of computer-animated movies (Shrek, Monsters Inc., Final Fantasy, Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius). I don't know that the animation is groundbreaking or eye-popping (though the fur is pretty impressive, as is the way that the skin stretches over the muscles in Diego's legs). But the animation more than serves its purpose, giving us characters with impressive emotional and comic range. The voice talent is excellent, particularly Leary and Leguizamo… plus good supporting players like Jack Black, Cedric the Entertainer, and Alan Tudyk (Wat from A Knight's Tale).

The scrat (voiced by Chris Wedge, one of the movie's co-directors) is not a main character, but he is a memorable one. He's the high point of the film, laugh-wise. In between, there are plenty of good jokes, mental and physical (like watching the Sabertooth play Peek-A-Boo). It does seem a little mean to get laughs by presenting the dodo bird as a species so incredibly stupid that it deserves to be extinct, since in actuality the dodo did manage to survive for thousands of years… until we hunted them and introduced predators into their habitat. But part of what keeps Ice Age a cut above, say, Disney's pretty but uninspired Dinosaurs, is that it's not afraid to be a little mean. 'Cause darn it, mean is funny.

One of the dangers of anthropomorphizing animals is that, in a universe in which animals have consciousness, the carnivores pretty much have to be the villains. The Muppets always made it into a joke, as on their Christmas album…

All: "Now bring us some figgy pudding…"
Piggy: "Piggy pudding!?!"
Gonzo: "Not piggy pudding. Figgy pudding. It's made with figs."
Piggy: "Oh."
Gonzo: "And bacon."

But most children's properties go the "Herbivores good, carnvivores bad" route. Disney's The Lion King paid lip service to the whole Circle of Life thing, but they actually skirted the issue by having Timon and Pumba teach Simba to subsist on a diet of bugs (insects evidently don't warrant our pity).

Ice Age picks a path that's a little more complicated. Manny the Mammoth says straight out that he doesn't have anything against carnivores, but that he detests creatures who kill for pleasure. Therefore, under this philosophy, it is permissible for humans to kill sabertooth tigers to wear their skins as protection against the cold, but it is not permissible for the sabertooths to want to chew up a cute little human baby as retaliation. Regardless of the reason, the carnivores once again end up being the villains. Nonetheless, Ice Age sets up an interesting dynamic in that Manny does go through all this trouble trying to return a human child to its tribe, in spite of the fact that (SPOILERS COMING UP HERE), as we later find out, Manny's mate and offspring were killed by humans. Even Diego the Sabertooth ends up putting friendship above his instincts. Which makes Manny, Sid, and Diego the Three Musketeers, but still leaves me wondering how long the friendship will last when Diego realizes that he hasn't had anything to eat for the last day or two.

Normally, this type of tale of interspecies understanding would annoy me more than a bag-full of Land Before Time sequels. But at the sentimental moments, the very parts where I should have been bah-humbugging, I actually got a little misty eyed. I think that's because the characters are just gruff and selfish enough to make their selfless acts seem like more than hollow kid-flick do-gooder-ism. Plus, that Rusted Root song does the soul good.


RevSF Film/DVD editor Jason Myers knows very well that the dodos didn't actually become extinct; they just all migrated to WackyLand, where they're rocking out to the cool tunes of the WackyLand rubber band.

 
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