Ice Age: The Meltdown

There’s a law in the world of film sequels – call it the Ewok principal – that posits that if one yeti is fun, three would be a blast and 10,000 is bound to be a riot.
Characters subdivide like Star Trek Tribbles in sequels like Ice Age: The Meltdown, mostly because filmmakers don’t trust that we actually like the original personalities they create. Sure, we think talking mammoths are funny, but we don’t really care for Manny (Ray Romano), who returns for Ice Age part two.
The original Ice Age showed that there could be a soul in the special effects CGI engine. Relying on strong characters, a believable (and scientifically valid) plot, and a good mixture of smart and scatological humor, Ice Age is still the strongest computer-generated animated film to date. It was so good, in fact, that the special effects receded in importance and disappeared into the background where they belong.
The story of three unlikely friends in a hostile world, Ice Age made us care about its characters – a morose mammoth, an emotionally conflicted saber-toothed tiger, and a politically correct weasel-creature.
Meltdown introduces Manny, Diego the tiger (Denis Leary), and Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo) to Ellie (Queen Latifah) and her two possum step-brothers, Crash and Eddie (Seann William Scott and Josh Peck). As in the first Ice Age, the plot is a prehistoric road movie following this unlikely herd as it tries to get to safety before the melting polar caps flood everything in sight.
Ellie and Manny may be the last two mammoths on Earth, so Sid tries to play cupid to his friend. Too bad for him that Ellie thinks she’s a possum and her two step brothers seem pretty happy to have a mammoth protector. During their long trek the two eventually do fall in love, of course, but there’s precious little chemistry between them.     
Which pretty much goes for the whole film: It just doesn’t feel real. This may be an odd criticism of a computer-generated story of talking animals, but it’s undeniably true. The first Ice Age felt authentic in the right ways, and you cared about the complex interactions between its characters.
Meltdown, on the other hand, feels like a cheap imitation. Those of us who grew up with Jim Henson’s Muppet Show could hear the false ring in Kermit the Frog’s voice when he first started selling crap on TV. We were all grown adults, true, but every one of us thought to ourselves, “That’s not really Kermit.”
Meltdown elicits the same weird experience. You know that none of the characters are real, but that doesn’t mean you don’t care when they appear false. Adding Ellie and the possums to the story provides an uninteresting shell game for those trying to figure out why Meltdown seems so mechanical, so without heart.
Ice Age grappled with difficult issues and implications, suggested adult themes, while Meltdown sweeps these concerns under the evolutionary carpet. I cared whether or not Manny would survive when I first met him, but I really don’t believe in this new mammoth.
In some ways extinction would be better than imitation.


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