84 minutes | Rated: PG
Opened: Friday, March 15, 2002
Directed by Chris Wedge
Voices of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, Goran Visnjic, Jack Black, Stephen Root
SMALL SCREEN SHRINKAGE: 30%
LETTERBOX: COULDN'T HURT
The scale of this picture won't feel the same on the small screen (as anyone who's seen even just the trailer on the big screen can attest). But that won't stop me from buying it!
VIDEO RELEASE: 11.26.2002
Uniquely styled CGI-toon 'Ice Age' is great fun, even though a lot of it seems awfully familiar
It's a pity that most anyone who regularly goes to the movies has already seen the best two minutes of "Ice Age," a uniquely styled new computer-animated comedy that takes place in a era of woolly mammoths, cave men and saber-tooth tigers.
The hilarious teaser trailer which has been in theaters for months -- the one with the twitchy, bug-eyed squirrel-rat who causes an avalanche while trying to bury an acorn in glacial ice -- serves as the opening moments of the finished film. While the rest of the picture is not by any means all downhill from there, this scene is so funny that nothing after it has a prayer of measuring up.
With its refreshingly peculiar, sharply rendered but creatively scruffy animation style "Ice Age" doesn't look anything like the plush toy-friendly CGI-toons being produced by Disney/Pixar and DreamWorks (this one's from Fox). Some of the characters are downright mangy critters with matted hair and protruding eyeballs, like Sid the sloth (lispy-voiced by John Leguizamo). He's the homely, buck-toothed, obnoxious and unwelcome sidekick of Manny the mammoth, a shaggy prehistoric pachyderm whose mopey loner personality is brought lamentingly to life by the appropriately nasal voice of Ray Romano.
Manny and Sid discover a lost human baby and go on a quest across the frozen tundra to return him to his tribe before winter (well, more winter) closes in. Joining them is Diego (Denis Leary), a saber-toothed tiger who'd much rather eat the baby ("Uh, that pink thing is mine," he growls) until he takes a shine to the tyke (just picture a vicious saber-cat playing peek-a-boo).
The story sometimes feels like a knock-off of its recent predecessors in the computer-cartoon kiddie-flick genre, what with its "Shrek"-like grumpy outcast hero and his pesky companion on a reluctant rescue mission. Then there's the mission itself -- to get a button-cute infant back where it belongs, a la "Monsters, Inc." These similarities can be chalked up to bad timing and not plot piracy, since these animated movies take years to complete. But they do cast bit of a pall over the proceedings.
However, the lack of original themes is largely made up for by the movie's sharp and spirited sense of humor -- extinction and evolution gags abound, and they just keep getting funnier -- and by its entirely unconventional, Chuck Jones-inspired visuals.
The 3-D settings are photo-realistic, but deliberately designed to look more like cartoonish stage props than real frozen landscapes. The animators went wild with their creation of Pleistocene critters too, endowing a pair of prehistoric rhinos with T-shaped horns that look like coat racks and a whole menagerie of other beasts with equally weird accoutrements.
"Ice Age" isn't destined for the kind of instant-classic reverence bestowed upon last year's batch of CGI fare for families. But it is funny, it is unique and it's still a great time at the movies.