The hilarious trailer for Ice Age stars Scrat, a hapless little prehistoric rodent who triggers disaster by trying to bury an acorn in a glacier. It’s a bit of a bait-and-switch, since the character is only shown periodically after the trailer footage is used as the first five minutes of the film itself. But even without Scrat and his elusive acorn providing much of the action, Ice Age entertains. In several ways it’s a perfect "family" film: kids will have fun, there’s enough humor periodically aimed at adults to keep parents amused, and at only 75 minutes in length it’s short enough to be tolerable even if they aren’t.
Like Disney’s Dinosaur, Ice Age is a CGI-animated road movie starring creatures on a quest. But unlike the previous feature – ponderous and preachy – Ice Age uses a much less literal visual style and keeps the action moving and the dialog light. It never forgets that the age range of the audience is likely to be very broad, and effectively mixes physical comedy for the kids with enough wry asides about Stonehenge and evolution to keep parents awake.
The odd troupe on this particular journey is made up of Manfred (Ray Romano), a curmudgeonly wooly mammoth, Sid (John Leguizamo) a smooth-talking sloth, and Diego (Denis Leary) a scheming saber-toothed tiger. All of their cohorts are headed south to avoid the encroaching cold and snow, but this trio is bravely headed north – to reunite a human baby girl they’ve rescued with the people of her tribe.
Sid’s a clumsy doofus, causing Manfred to do numerous variations on the Slow Burn–they’re an animal version of Ed Norton and Ralph Kramden. Diego’s a covert operator, claiming to be along to help but really there to lead Manfred and Sid to a dinner party – where they’re the first two courses. Michael Wilson and Michael Berg’s script throws in enough variations on the basic mismatched-pals-on-a-mission theme to keep things interesting, including one madcap sequence showing how the Dodo became extinct. And every time the action lags a bit Scrat and his acorn are pushed back onstage for some added comic relief.
Director Chris Wedge is mostly content to have things happen in straightforward fashion – there’s little here to evoke wonder – but he does take advantage of the medium. There are a few sequences where the animators were allowed to have a field day, most notably a scene when cave paintings of a hunting party spring to life. And a few visual pranks pop up in the background at times, letting the audience in on the joke even if the characters aren’t.
The film is rated PG for "mild peril", but contains nothing for parents of even preschoolers to be concerned about. While not quite on a par with the very best of recent animated features, Ice Age is nevertheless a pleasant enough way to spend a matinee afternoon with the children in your life.
– Bob Aulert