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Ice Age: The Meltdown

(2006) ** Pg
90 min. 20th Century Fox. Director: Carlos Saldanha. Cast: Ray Romano, Chris Wedge, Peter Ackerman, Caitlin Rose Anderson, Connor Anderson.

When the first Ice Age came out (the movie, I mean), I noted the dispiritingly fossilized formula into which animated features had sunk: a tar pit of comedy-star voices (in this case, Ray Romano and Denis Leary), epic spectacle, and precocious talking animals. Ice Age: The Meltdown obligingly follows the animated sequel formula, and while that's good for Fox's bottom line, it's a somewhat grudging social obligation for audiences over the age of ten to tow their younger charges.

Romano's woolly mammoth Manny, Leary's sabre-toothed tiger Diego, John Leguizamo's sloth Sid, and the beloved squirrel-rat Scrat all return, this time met with Queen Latifah as Ellie, a mammoth love-interest, and Seann William Scott and Josh Peck as her possum "brothers" Crash and Eddie (like Finding Nemo's Dory, Ellie is ditzy: she doesn't know she's a mammoth). The plot: the animals must escape from their melting home before it floods.

The seams show—a slack narrative lifted artificially by laboriously designed action sequences (teetering rocks, geyser-field, flood), rhythmically inserted short films of Scrat trying to get an acorn for himself (again), and even a musical production number repurposed from Oliver!. Improbably, the Wile E. Coyote-esque Scrat is still amusing, but the long-walk main plot goes nowhere slow. (And even when animated, Latifah doesn't escape big-butt jokes.)

Kids will go along for the ride and absorb lessons about facing fears (Diego fears water; Manny quite reasonably fears extinction). Perhaps the best lesson, however, comes courtesy of a lip-smacking vulture: "Do not leave your children unattended. All unattended children will be eaten." That'll teach the littl'uns to wander off...

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