End-of-the-world peril is conveyed through slapstick in Ice Age: The Meltdown. Its balancing of world wary poignancy and breathless mayhem surpasses the 2002 original. Rather than play for lazy sequel dollars, the crew at Blue Sky animation aim their fuzzy animal adventure for something greater —finding the heart and relentlessness to pull off a winning comedy about the dread of extinction.
With global warming threatening their home, it’s a search for higher ground for the prehistoric trio of Manny (voice of Ray Romano), Sid (voice of John Leguizamo) and Diego (voice of Denis Leary.) The simple journey structure immediately differentiates Ice Age from the rescue missions in Pixar’s output. Even the character designs have the abstract angles and features of cave drawings, befitting the movie’s zany sensibility. Interludes of saber-toothed squirrel Scrat having repeated near-death experiences trying to find an acorn to call his own have a distinctive Looney Tunes flavour. So does a sequence where outcast Sid gets a nasty surprise from a tribe of sloths who respect him so much they want him as a sacrifice. When Manny the Mammoth meets Ellie (voice of Queen Latifah), a female of his species who has spent so long living with possums that she thinks she’s one of them, the movie throws in its best visual gag. As the gang camps out for the night, she’s asleep, hanging by her tail from a tree branch.
The message that all creatures need their place on earth is pitched at kids through the hope of safety and survival that keeps these animals motivated. Fearing the uncertainty of death, they try making sense of the cruelty of the universe. But Ice Age is at its most alive in its action sequences, which have a cause-and-effect sharpness that’s at once quick and very funny. It doesn’t give in to this kind of prolonged visual splendour often enough. Even when Ice Age indulges in a silent sequence, like Ellie’s sad flashback to her childhood, it’s cut short by the movie’s overriding chattiness. The temptation to kowtow to such literary-minded viewing habits needn’t be indulged. At its most potent, it’s a madcap vision of coping with global disaster.
For a while, ATL captures youth aimlessness with an observant stride that suggests a black equivalent of American Graffiti but it’s the movie that winds up dazed and confused. Hip hop video director Chris Robinson repeatedly settles for dramatic cliche when it looks like he’s about to deal sincerely with his subjects. ATL (the airport code for Atlanta) thrives on the current popularity of the dirty south music scene, which makes its convenience no less genuine than the G-Funk-inspired urban films of 15 years ago. It’s a tone that Robinson knows in enjoyable stretches of kids hanging out in diners, driving, going to pool parties, making out and highlighting their teeth with grills. He’s also the latest to throw in a roller rink as their hangout. It’s enough that ATL uses this hegemony as basis for its characters’ fears of growing up.
As the story branches out, it loses focus. Class politics are poorly handled when blue-collar teen Rashad (Tip Harris) discovers his girlfriend New-New (Lauren London) is the daughter of a rich CEO. A subplot involving Big Boi as a drug dealer who sees work potential in Rashad’s younger brother is even more tired. ATL only works when it’s not bound by story. It starts out as a good idea.
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