Stars: *** 1/2
Rating: PG for mildly scary situations
Run Time: 1 hour, 24 minutes
Fledging little Blue Sky Studios (the computer imagery/animation division of powerhouse 20th Century Fox) offers up an impressive debut in the feature-length animation sweepstakes with a cool (make that sub-zero) tale of survival of the fittest.
Turn the clock back twenty thousand years and the earth is in peril. Enormous glaciers are flowing across the tundra, threatening to wipe out landscapes and species in their entirety. In the wake of this natural catastrophe, herds of determined mammals are migrating to higher ground, including a small tribe of primitive man. Rhinos and dinos on the move, with one common objective: survival.
Through the auspices of poetic movie license, a motley trio of diversity is born. A herd of sabre-tooth tigers seeks revenge on the humans who have drastically reduced their numbers, managing to separate an infant boy from his mother and father. On the same volatile plain, a moody wooly mammoth (voice of Ray Romano as Manfred) is journeying out solo, wallowing in solitude until he is physically and comically assaulted by a shrill, insecure sloth (John Leguizamo as Sid) in need of a bodyguard.
The pair lumber on, trading slings and barbs. They ultimately stumble upon the defenseless baby, and reluctantly resolve to return it to its family. Enter the sinister Diego (voice of Dennis Leary), a smooth-talking sabre-toothed feline with a keen interest in the mission and the child – as lunch. The unlikely threesome set out on their trek, each with a hidden agenda and all threatened by a very scary reality: extinction.
“Monster’s, Inc.”, “Shrek”, “Waking Life”. We’re repeatedly reminded of extraordinary leaps in digital technology. The high profile technique in this case is “radiosity” – a groundbreaking lighting effect that lends a luminous, organic reality to its topography. That said, it’s the script that really counts. “Ice Age” yields to the temptation of conventional animation standards (witty sidekicks, transformations-of-self, etc.), but it does so with a clean style and authentic humor. Romano, Leary and Leguizamo possess distinct voice patterns that lend themselves well to the comedy and drama of animals on the run.
Best of show belongs to a sideline gag featuring a Scrat – a scrawny, prehistoric interpretation of a squirrel and a rat – who struggles with a stubborn acorn, often with calamitous results. His gig alone is worth the price of admission.