With computer animation being such a big hit with audiences of all ages (witness the piles of money raked in by the likes of Toy Story and Shrek), it was only a matter of time before 20th Century Fox got their piece of the pie. Ice Age, a family movie starring furry animals and set in prehistoric times, is their maiden voyage into this lucrative genre--and it's not that impressive, especially in light of the competition.
Manny (voice provided by Ray Romano) is a giant woolly mammoth whose migration is unexpectedly complicated with the discovery of a lone human baby. Although he distrusts people, the great shaggy traveler decides to take the helpless infant and deliver it to its family. Joining him in his journey across the wilderness are a chatty sloth named Sid (voice of John Leguizamo) and a saber-toothed tiger named Diego (voice of Denis Leary), whose services as a helpful guide belie a more insidious agenda. Along the way, this mismatched trio and their delicate cargo face danger from predators, harsh weather, and fanatic Dodo birds.
The story is decidedly targeted at children. The run-of-the-mill lesson about the importance of family is like Disney's Lilo and Stitch minus the heart. Virtually every plot element is generic, from Manny and Sid's odd couple relationship to a villain's change of heart when he is shown kindness.
Ice Age does little to advance the science of computer animation. It dabbles with creating fire and shows off some small, lifelike dust clouds, but there's nothing that is particularly new to the artform. Aesthetically, many of the animals are as unappealing as the title insects in 1998's Antz, while the people look downright inhuman.
Manny the mammoth is amusing, if only because he's Ray Romano's big, dumb voice coming out of a big, dumb beast (although slipping in some of the comedian's stand-up material is a forced and cheesy move). But Sid, in typical sidekick-gone-wrong fashion, borders on irritating. Haven't the studios learned anything from Jar Jar Binks? You'd think by now they would have figured out this simple calculation: annoying comic relief character - comic relief = annoying character.
By far, the funniest critter in Ice Age is the one who says the least: a saber-toothed squirrel called Scrat whose singled-minded obsession over an acorn leads to a whole lot of trouble. This twitchy-eyed rodent is like a crack addict who can't catch a break, a compulsive freak who will do whatever it takes to get the almighty nut. It's no wonder that he's a favorite among viewers, and that the DVD includes bonus Scrat footage that wasn't available during the film's theatrical run.
But even Scrat and his nut-fiending antics can't catapult this movie into greatness. Overall, Ice Age is a thoroughly mediocre entry in the world of computer generated feature films--entertaining and watchable, but doing almost nothing to push the envelope technologically or creatively.
Rating: 5 out of 10 (0=Abysmal, 5=Average, 10=Excellent)