Ice Age: The Meltdown
2006Director: Carlos Saldanha
Cast: Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary
lue Sky Animation Studios’ computer-animated feature, Ice Age: The Meltdown—sequel to the 2002 film of the same base name—follows a group of prehistoric animals hurrying out of a valley to avoid an impending flood. The movie starts well enough, with a clever parody: as the Ice Age ends, ice shelves have become waterslides enjoyed by young animals while the older members of the herd discuss the scenes as an effect of global warming. Sid, a dim but honest sloth, has even started a waterpark day camp, though his friends, the mammoth and sabertooth tiger, have to rescue him from the mischievous child animals who do not take Sid seriously. The mammoth, Manny, and tiger, Diego, gather the kids around for story time. And here, already, Ice Age: The Meltdown raises right eyebrows.
The kids have a very specific reaction to Manny’s children’s story. One child says his family reunion tale would have been more believable with a love-interest. Another wishes the characters were more fully fleshed out. A third says the conclusion was unconvincing. “Aha!” Ice Age’s audience says, smiling and recognizing the children’s reactions for what they are: parodies of Hollywood producers and film critics, questioning children’s stories. And the point is fair. Animated films are made to appeal to kids, and certainly, a large part of Ice Age’s audience is children. How can a critic, such as myself, nitpick a film when he is not its intended audience, when the film is, in fact, child’s play?
Well, to begin with, computer animation is now big business. Thirteen computer animated feature films will be released this year, a record for animation of any kind. Computer animation has lately proven itself to be the only financially reliable genre in Hollywood not first envisioned by George Lucas. Ice Age: The Meltdown has, itself, gotten off to a fast start: two weeks out, it has become the year’s highest-grossing film, earning over $120 million after costing $75 million to make. In short, money is being made. Hollywood will keep us in good supply.
But more importantly, no audience is an iceberg. Cartoons and animated features may be intended for kids, but a consistent attempt to attract adult audiences to animation is clearly being made. Think of the most successful animated films in history—Shrek 2, Finding Nemo, Aladdin—and the lasting impressions they made with audiences young and old. In the 1940s and ‘50s, Disney repeatedly brought in older audiences, despite stories often derived from fairy tales and children’s literature. Pixar Animation—a name everyone in the computer animation business must be tired of hearing praised—proved with 2004’s The Incredibles that an animated fillm targeting adults from the outset can succeed. None of this is to say that companies like Blue Sky should stop directing their animated films toward child audiences. It is to say that they have a lot to live up to.
Blue Sky is very good with the visual elements of animation, after all. Watch the ice in Ice Age as it glides by, especially in the scenes with the prehistoric, vocally-challenged squirrel, Scrat. The ice, a challenge to animate and color, looks good—not necessarily real, but believable. It gives the larger ice shelves and valleys in Ice Age a sense of authenticity, setting up several nice moments in which the characters interact with their volatile world.
But as always in Blue Sky’s work, you only get moments. The kids from the beginning were right: the story is unconvincing. The essential problem with the film is the problem Blue Sky always seems to have—inconsistency. In the first Ice Age, as well as last year’s Robots, the filmmakers included tangential moments that deviated wildly from the central story, offering strong visual impact but losing any sense of the film’s focus. The same is true in the new film. There are many set pieces. Moments with the squirrel, Scrat—indeed, the best moments in the film because they are inventive and genuinely funny without being over-written—are cut in throughout the story. At the same time, the story itself diverges at several points: into a makeshift and lengthy Wack-a-Mole game; into a musical number by a flock of vultures singing about eating the protagonists; into a moment to appreciate the biblical appearance of a boat atop a mountain just in time to save animals from a flood; and into a strange scene with a gang of miniature sloth worshipping Sid as their “Fire King” (sloth can make fires, apparently).
The impression is that Blue Sky expects quick, unintegrated yet flashy moments to appeal to kids, and perhaps they’re right; media, music videos, and technology have all served to popularize a fast-edit aesthetic. Children seem to have increasingly shorter attention spans. Films and television shows seem to be cut with increasing rapidity. Nothing lingers. Everything advances, and quick. Yet, with films like Ice Age: The Meltdown, that pander to what we think of as children’s inability to sit still, should we be surprised by their squirms? Giving an audience less direct storytelling will hardly keep that audience more engaged. The film makes less sense, and kids have only more reason not to watch.
Instead, you wish Blue Sky would get the picture. Pixar and DreamWorks Animation, as well as Japanese master animator Hayao Miyazsaki (Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle), make animated films with integrated, singular storytelling. They achieve lasting, devoted, and diverse audiences as a result. Disney and Warner Brothers did the same fifty years ago, with exemplary products that people still recall with fondness. Blue Sky, with its visual skills, could certainly develop that same kind of following, but for now, it triumphs in mediocrity. Ice Age: The Meltdown does not create a lasting mark. It melts before you've even left the theater.
By: Arthur Ryel-Lindsey
Published on: 2006-04-19