When the increasing heat of the planet starts to melt their icy home, woolly mammoth Manny (voiced by Ray Romano), saber-toothed tiger Diego (Denis Leary), and Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo) decide to clear out of the valley and head to higher ground. Despondent over the suggestion that he's the last of his kind, Manny is astonished to meet Ellie (Queen Latifah), another mammoth, and her two possum "brothers" on their journey. Looking to build a relationship with Ellie, Manny's plans are put on hold as the waters rise, and new aquatic enemies go on the hunt.
2002's "Ice Age" was a lackluster production, seriously derivative of other CG features and generally underwhelming in the story department. It also was the film whose opening torpedoed the extravagant plans to commemorate the 20th anniversary of "E.T." that year. I just can't forgive the picture for ruining that potentially wonderful experience. While "Ice Age" racked up huge numbers at the box office, it left little room for a sequel. Well, never let it be said that Hollywood isn't inventive.
"Ice Age: The Meltdown" (IMDb listing) could easily be dismissed as a rehash of the first film, since both are unsophisticated road trip movies with plenty of goofy comedy asides. But the sequel beats the original film by placing emphasis on jokes and peril, and keeping away from an overflow of heartwarming material. There are still moments that choke up the viewer -- the best flashing back to Ellie's first encounter with the possums -- but the story doesn't feel grindingly labored this time around. The life-affirming messages are given the heave-ho for the second installment, leaving plenty of room for old-fashioned fun.
As with the original film, "Meltdown" provides excellent voicework from the cast, all of whom seem very comfortable with their characters for this go-around. Clearly, Leguizamo is the MVP here, frequently making Sid the most entertaining character in the bunch. Sid gets bumped up to matchmaker status in "Meltdown," which hands Leguizamo even greater room to roam for jokes involving the mammoth love connection.
Almost as confident as the performers is the animation. For "Meltdown," the production feels much more adventurous and more willing to squeeze in visual gags and genuinely funny character quirks whenever it can. Ideas like a mid-movie musical number with swarming vultures dies a quick and deserved death, but others, such as Ellie's two smack-talking possum brothers, flourish because they're tackled with seemingly improvisational animated movement. The characters are loose and silly for "Meltdown," which greatly augments the film's entertainment value.
Intermixed with the story are tangents involving Scrat, the squirrel-thingamajig who is still on the hunt to enjoy his beloved acorn. Being such a popular character, Scrat is given significantly more screentime for this installment, which isn't nearly as promising as it sounds. Still, the little guy adds a valuable Looney Tunes vibe to "Meltdown," counteracting the intermittently laborious nature of Manny's quest for love.
It's fabulous to see past mistakes in "Ice Age" corrected for the newer model. Kids are going to love this latest round with their prehistoric friends, and, unlike last time, parents will have just as much fun with it.
Filmfodder Grade: B+