The first Ice Age, though hardly an animated classic, was likable enough. Its animation and storyline were no match for Pixar, but it had some nifty imagery and funny moments with the Chuck Jones-inspired Scrat, a prehistoric acorn-obsessed squirrel.
The sequel is smart enough to recognize the appeal of pummeling the crap out of cute little critters and gives the single-minded Scrat a lot more screen time, brightening up the film's otherwise tepid story.
Manny (Ray Romano), the woolly mammoth hero, and his pals Diego the saber-toothed tiger (Denis Leary) and Sid the giant sloth (John Leguizamo) discover that glaciers are melting and an epic flood is only days away. As the animals hightail it to an ark-like boat, Manny fears he's the last of his kind. Quicker than you can say "plot development," he stumbles into Ellie (Queen Latifah), a female mammoth (who thinks she's a possum).
It's a thin premise to hang a movie on, and the filmmakers work hard to keep our interest with jokes that range from the inspired vultures singing to Oliver's "Food, Glorious, Food" to the insipid. Unfortunately, very little of the humor comes from the characters themselves. This is what separates a decent waste of time from a classic. And every time Meltdown (like its predecessor) finds some dramatic footing, it falls flat on its face with Disney-like mawkishness.
Leguizamo does a good job with Sid the Sloth, but has too little screen time. Romano, whose sarcastic asides can be brilliant, is neutered of any personality, and Latifah is a bore. Perhaps the film's biggest crime is its inability to wring a single laugh out of Denis Leary. Why is Hollywood so incapable of effectively harnessing this man's comic talents?
Except for the slightly better visuals, Ice Age: Meltdown does little to improve upon the original. But one thing can be said in the movie's favor: It, unlike the Bush administration, believes in the dangers of global warming. Still, that's no excuse for spending millions on lukewarm entertainment.
Jeff Meyers writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to email@example.com.