Century fox, 2002)
MPAA: PG (for mild peril)
Review by Amy Harlib
Directed by: Carlos Saldanha (I) Chris Wedge
Thanks to the smashing success of Toy Story, Monster, Inc. and everything in between, not to mention Shrek, 20th Century Fox Studios, wanting a slice of the CGI animated feature pie, now serves up its first film in this fast-developing field---Ice Age. Sharing helming duties, Chris Wedge and Carlos Saldanha of Blue Sky Studios (a CGI effects house noted for its work on other folks' productions and for shorts), now under the Fox umbrella, reveal that the quality of their full-length work can rank beside that of their predecessors in employing this new animation technology to create dazzling visuals and delightful stories and characters.
Ice Age, a comedy-adventure set 20,000 years ago during dramatic climactic upheavals and where immense herds of mammals were migrating south to avoid advancing glaciers, focuses on a maverick mammoth called Manfred (Ray Romano) who bucks the tide and heads north.
When Manfred fortuitously rescues the endearingly klutzy and loquacious Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo) from a pair of hostile and aggressive prehistoric "rhinos" (Cedric the Entertainer and Stephen Root), Sid, abandoned by his straight-laced family during the migration, begs to join his savior who grudgingly acquiesces. Meanwhile, the leader of a nearby remnant Neanderthal tribe becomes the object of revenge by the resident pride of sabre tooth tigers desirous to switch from being the hunted to the hunters. Their alpha male Soto (Goran Visnjic) orders one of his fierce followers Diego (Denis Leary), to capture the head Neanderthal's baby Roshan (Tara Strong) alive, a plot that goes awry when, during the ferocious feline attack on the village, the baby's mother leaps over a waterfall rather than let her child get taken. Downstream, the exhausted, dying woman survives just long enough to leave her offspring on the shore where Manfred and Sid discover the little one, take pity on him and decide to take him back to his tribe.
Soon Diego shows up willing to guide them, using his superior tracking skills, to the new location where the Neanderthals fled---an offer that seems too good to be true to the understandably suspicious Manfred who agrees out of desperation. Unbeknownst to the benevolent pair of surrogate parents, Diego's hidden agenda involves more than just the baby---he had promised his pride that he would arrange for the protagonists to be ambushed just in time for supper!
Along the way to this dubious destiny, the affection between Manfred and Sid and their mutual concern for Roshan gradually affects Diego who eventually gets won over to become a member of one of "the weirdest herds ever seen". The journey combines numerous laugh-out-loud gags with plenty of exciting action. Witty repartee between the characters, slapstick pratfalls, clever anachronistic parody sequences abound amongst spectacular primeval scenic vistas. A stand-out set-piece includes an encounter with an intentionally absurd doomsday cult of dodoes whose melon Sid snatches to feed their hungry charge and, charging through the dodoes, carrying his prize like a quarterback going for the touchdown, Sid enacts a hilarious slow-motion spoof of countless contrived cinematic winning-against-the-odds action scenes.
More great moments occur satirizing figure skating, skiing and bob-sledding but the best bits of business puts the questing quartet through labyrinthine icy caverns where they slip and slide precipitously past all manner of entombed frozen oddities including a UFO!
Amidst Ice Age's mayhem and mirth the characters get to develop quite a bit of depth while they learn to care for each other and for baby Roshan. This becomes especially evident when, emerging from the above-mentioned grottos, the foursome find some rock walls covered with human-painted artworks. Among many images, those depicting a mammoth family evokes intense memories in Manfred for his own close relatives. He re-lives in his mind (ingeniously shown by animating the cave paintings), their deaths at the hands of men hurling spears and stones. Sid and Diego, sensing their large companion's distress, comfort him, sharing their sadness at being cut off from their kindred yet also strengthened and reassured by discovering that they have formed a new kind of connection of caring friendship. This believable sentiment among the 3 protagonists for each other and for the young one in their care, carries through more literal cliffhangers and near-fatal volcanic eruptions until the satisfying climax.
Things never get cloyingly saccharine towards the end of the movie or at any time previously thanks to the overall humor and the funniest parts---the interludes featuring "Scrat" whose eccentric vocalizations get provided by none other than Chris Wedge. An invented creature, a sort of sabre-toothed part squirrel/part rat, Scrat punctuates the main plot with his unending antics obsessively and unsuccessfully trying to maintain hold of and crack open his beloved acorn!
Ice Age offers dazzling visuals (including state-of-the-art rendering of different kinds of fur on each of the 3 lead characters and an enormous range of surface textures, snow, fire, water, feathers and the Neanderthals aren't bad either). This, plus the film's appealing, fully expressive characters; charming story; abundant laughs; and beautiful, versatile David Newman score makes this an entertainment treat for the whole family.
Rich in satirical scenes, verbal jokes, genuine emotion and thrilling action, Ice Age, set against a panoramic, glacial backdrop, represents a comedy-adventure with a very warm heart.
© 2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu