Pushing the envelope

Prehistoric beasts are shocked by the presence of a  photographer  during the Ice Age.

Prehistoric beasts are shocked by the presence of a photographer during the Ice Age.

Rated 3.0

Cartoons continue to get a little more subversive and weird with Ice Age, a Fox entry into the CGI derby that contains lots of poop jokes and gay humor to give it a somewhat adult tone and make the kids snicker.

Set many thousands of years ago during the Ice Age, the story revolves around three animals—a mammoth, a Saber-toothed tiger and a sloth—who are trying to return a human child to his tribe. This in itself is strange, because we know that the child will grow up and hunt his protectors (something the film often alludes to), so this movie acts as the best cinematic pro-vegetarianism sermon since Babe.

The animals are voiced by the likes of Ray Romano as Manford the mammoth, John Leguizamo as Sid the sloth and Denis Leary as Diego the tiger. Jack Black is also in there as a small character named Zeke. I discovered this after seeing the film, so I couldn’t tell you much about his work, but hey, it’s pretty cool knowing Jack Black is lending his voice to kiddy cartoons! That’s sick!

The vocal performances range from so-so to pretty gosh-darned good. John Leguizamo provides Sid with a spitty quality that fuels his overall goofiness. Romano is his usual deadpan, and it suits a big-assed mammoth just fine. Leary has an interesting, smoke-stained voice that perhaps isn’t sinister enough to those who don’t know who Leary is. Those who know the comedian and agree that he is a badass will appreciate the casting, while others less familiar with the guy will miss out on the novelty and might find his vocals fairly routine.

Setting the story in the Ice Age lends to some nice graphics involving snow and, yes, ice. The artistry, while not on par with the likes of Shrek, beats the crap out of derivative garbage like the recent Return to Neverland. Actually, the stuff I saw my 2-year-old nephew scrawling with his Magic Markers on his mother’s carpeted floor beats Neverland.

The film’s best running gag has already been revealed in the preview trailers, that of Skrat the squirrel rat and his acorn adventures. His race against a collapsing glacier and being victimized by a bolt of lightning are good laugh-getters, but the filmmakers would’ve done us a favor by not showing the sequences in their entirety during the commercials. Skrat does get a couple of nice extra sequences, including a funny ending surprise, but his best stuff is in the advertisements.

Ice Age deserves a salute for including two gay rhinos (the film never states they are gay, but it’s pretty obvious) amongst its characters. I liked the pleasure the rhinos took in the salads they prepared for one another and the joy they felt when finding dandelions. It is that very flower that leads to the rhinos targeting Leguizamo’s sloth for death after he hastily devours one, providing an excuse for the rhinos to be recurring characters.

The film is surprisingly violent for a kids’ movie. While there are no spurting arteries or beheadings, quite a few characters die off in fairly nasty fashion, including drowning, falls, tiger attacks and freezing to death. In comparison to stuff like Bambi and Shrek, Ice Age is the Reservoir Dogs of animated kid flicks.

The humor in Ice Age could best be described as awkward at times, but its willingness to push the envelope a bit helps to take the film to above-average levels. The film will not change any lives, but it will provide for a decent Saturday matinee that won’t kill the parents.