Sometimes there is a piquant irony to be relished even with a bad film that, if it doesn’t save the movie going experience, still gives one something to ponder while enduring the running time. In ICE AGE 2: THE MELTDOWN, it’s the contrast with another film that dealt, however briefly with the same theme. That would be Disney’s original FANTASIA with its demise of the dinosaur sequence and that’s what happened. The wheel of life made an unfortunate turn, at least for the great lumbering beasts and doing so, in a very un-Disney sort of ending, made way for the rise of the mammals. ICE AGE 2 deals with those mammals, things like saber-toothed tigers, mammoths, and three-toed sloths, all of whom, like the dinosaurs, were ground under that wheel I mentioned before thereby making way to non-saber-toothed lions, elephants, and differently toed sloths. Yet it in this, non-Disney version, there is a distinctly Disneyfied ending and so the irony that is the only thing worth remembering about having seen it. That and the fact that Creationists, pardon me, Intelligent Designer-ites, will be ticked off by the casual reference to plate tectonics and the non-standard version of Noah’s Ark that is the goal of our returning heroes is one of only two good things about this flick.
Speaking of those heroes, there is nothing new about any of them. Manny the mammoth (voiced by Ray Romano), is still a sad sack pining for his lost family. Diego the saber-toothed tiger (voiced by Dennis Leary in seriously defanged mode) is still crotchety, but a soft sweetie beneath the bluster, and Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo lisping for all he’s worth) is still inept but lovably so. The only thing that’s changed is that Manny, after not spotting another mammoth for a while and being told by pretty much all the other creatures around him, begins to suspect that he’s the last of his species still roaming the earth. Oh, and volcanic activity is melting the glaciers, which means that the water slides they’ve all been enjoying are a harbinger of something bad, and they have three days to make it to the boat at the other end of their valley before they all drown. That the warning comes from a vulture who has a vested interest in them >not< making is never discussed.
En route he discovers Ellie (Queen Latifah), a mammoth with a possum complex, and her two possum brothers. Its sounds funnier than it is to see Ellie catching a few Zs by swinging by her tail from a tree branch next to her siblings, who are in a similar mode. The romance is predictable and not so much sweet as tedious. Romano’s mournful voice and the expressive eyes that the animators have given Manny should make their courtship poignant, what with the imperative to save the mammoth from extinction being on the line, but it, like the recycled antics of Diego and Sid have a tired air about them.
Not at all tedious or tired is the return of Scrat, the scrappy little squirrel-like creature who encapsulates all of human experience in his endless quest to secure an acorn against all comers and all odds. There is the myth of Sisyphus, the glory of continuing a quest as transcendent as that of Arthur’s knights for the Grail, and the essential tragedy that accompanies the tyranny of desire from which Buddhism seeks to free humankind. And it’s way funny. Emotions frayed but intense beyond the ability of mere mortals to endure and with that twitching eye of his always on the prize, the little guy puffs out his chest and takes on proto-piranhas, glaciers, birds of prey, and a fate that has made him its favorite plaything.
ICE AGE 2 needed nothing but Scrat to be the winner he never will be. And we all lose because it isn’t.