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'Ice Age'

'Ice Age' puts familiar story lines into its own fantasy world

Friday, March 15, 2002

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

"Ice Age" echoes with references to other animated films of note, but somehow manages to carve out its own identity -- and enough slapstick comedy (with a dash of emotion) to keep the kids entertained and their parents docile.

'Ice Age'

RATING: PG for mild peril.

VOICES: Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary.

DIRECTOR: Chris Wedge.

WEB SITE: www.iceagemovie.com



This animated comedy centers on the unlikely (and usually unwilling) combination of Manfred the Mammoth (voice of Ray Romano), a hairy curmudgeon who heads north when everyone else is going south to escape the cold; Sid the Sloth (John Leguizamo), who overslept and missed the migration but is more likely to die at the hands of those annoyed by his endless bumbling and chattering; and Diego the Saber-Toothed Tiger (Denis Leary), who has ulterior motives.

They team up after they find a human baby that has been separated from its parents. Sid wants to return the infant to its own species and gets grumbling Manfred to agree by promising to leave him alone once the job is done. Diego says he can lead them there, but can he be trusted? Even Manfred realizes the answer is no, but he has little choice.

Quick. Name the movies that "Ice Age" resembles. A big grumpy lump with an annoying, talkative sidekick? "Shrek." A big furry creature and his small partner trying to return a human child to its own world? "Monsters Inc." Prehistoric creatures trying to survive a long migration? "The Land Before Time." A snarling tiger who hates humans? "The Jungle Book." A scheming lion pretending he's on your side? "The Lion King."

Screenwriters Michael Berg, Michael J. Wilson and Peter Ackerman send them on their way (accompanied at one point by Pittsburgh's Rusted Root singing "Send Me on My Way"), but director Chris Wedge and his computer-animation team provide the visual and comic touches that enliven the film.

One of them is a running gag featuring a creature called Scrat, which is half squirrel and half rat and has eyes bugging out of his head as if a freight train is bearing down on him. Who can blame him? Every time he tries to bury his precious little acorn, disaster strikes. But he keeps trying, sometimes affecting the main characters quite by accident.

Scrat may represent blind chance, but he's also just a little bit too much like us humans, trying desperately to hold on to what little he's got and finding out that every time he thinks he's reached his goal, it turns out to be yet another mountain to climb that's of his own making. Yet he perseveres and somehow endures. And his antics -- and their unintended consequences -- can be very funny.

So are the scenes in which Manny, Sid and Diego encounter a flock of dodo birds, who proceed to demonstrate all the reasons they are now extinct. There's just sheer fun and exhilaration in a scene where the guys follow the baby through a fun-house ride of ice tunnels and chutes inside a glacier.

Unlike "Shrek," which tried to render a realistic landscape, "Ice Age" creates its own fantasy world, dominated by water in both its frozen and liquid states. Scrat is the most memorable of the characters although Manny comes close, with his large bulk, his long tusks and a pompadour that would make Elvis envious.

In addition to the funny business, the movie takes time to explain (in an animated sequence of cave drawings) what makes Manny so contrary. It allows Diego and Sid to discover qualities in themselves that they never suspected.

The movie gives us a couple of emotional moments at the end, nothing too saccharine, and serves up Scrat as a comic chaser -- on the rocks, of course. "Ice Age" does a good job of tickling our noses.

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