Frozen stiff

Remember Wile E. Coyote? Much funnier than this little a-hole.

Remember Wile E. Coyote? Much funnier than this little a-hole.

Rated 1.0

Let’s cut to the chase right off: Ice Age: The Meltdown, the sequel to the 2002 animated feature, is not as good as the original. But then, I thought the original was a lifeless, forgettable bore. A lot of people thought it was very funny, and they made it a big hit to the tune of almost $400 million worldwide. If you’re one of them, you might want to bump this popcorn rating up a notch or two. But it’s still not as good as the original.

Ice Age: The Meltdown takes place several thousand years after the first film, but the three heroes are still alive and apparently in the prime of life. There’s Manny the mammoth (voice by Ray Romano), Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo) and Diego the saber-toothed cat (Denis Leary). The Ice Age is drawing to a close; glaciers are melting; and Manny, Sid and Diego exhort all the other creatures who live on their ice shelf to trek to the other end of the valley, where, someone has said, a boat will help them all ride out the coming flood. As the journey begins, Manny is morosely aware that he seems to be the last of his species, a fact that all the other animals make a point of rubbing into his thick woolly skin.

Before long, however, Manny finds out that he’s not the last of his kind after all—when he meets Ellie (Queen Latifah), a female mammoth who seems attractive enough, as mammoths go. Manny and Ellie don’t hit it off at first because if they didn’t start out finding each other insufferable, the movie would have less story than it already does. The pretext for this early conflict (if that’s not too strong a term) is the fact that Ellie doesn’t realize she’s a mammoth. Having been adopted as a calf by a family of possums, she thinks she’s one of them. Even so, she and her two wacky possum “brothers” Crash (Seann William Scott) and Eddie (Josh Peck) agree to tag along on the journey. While Crash and Eddie annoy Diego, and Manny and Ellie annoy each other, Sid mopes that even though he’s figured out how to make fire, nobody ever shows him any respect—until he’s adopted by a vast herd of sloths who worship him as their fire god.

That’s as much of the plot as I care to go into; frankly, recounting it bores me almost as much as sitting through it in the first place did. Oh, there are a couple of aquatic carnivores (they look something like a cross between a whale and a crocodile) that stalk our motley band of travelers, bursting up from time to time through the melting ice. And that little character Scrat is back, the squirrel eternally frustrated in his quest for a single acorn, which he pursues with the dogged determination of Wile E. Coyote or the Trix rabbit. Many people find Scrat screamingly funny; others are merely reminded how funny the old Coyote and Road Runner cartoons were. In any case, Scrat doesn’t have much to do with the story.

The fact is, the story is all a crock. Wacky possums? A mammoth who thinks she’s a possum herself? A sloth who makes fire? These are symptoms of narrative desperation, but writer Jon Vitti and director Carlos Saldanha don’t apologize for it. Having Manny, Sid and Diego still around after all those millennia is the first sign that we’re not supposed to give this any thought—instead, we should just check our brains at the door and let the hilarious good times sweep over us.

But if that’s the deal, the filmmakers had better be sure to provide a hilarious good time. Ice Age: The Meltdown cracks every joke it can think of, but they’re all just pop-culture in-jokes. None of them come out of character or situation, so none of them are funny.

This is one of those movies like Shark Tale or Madagascar, where the setting is just something the animators felt like animating. It doesn’t have to be the Ice Age, and Romano’s voice would be just as funny coming from a bulldog, a grandfather clock or a sand ashtray. But Saldanha and his crew felt like animating a mammoth.

That’s probably why animated movies like this always make a big deal out of the star voices, pretending they’re in the movie when their faces never appear. They’ve got nothing else to sell. Disney and Pixar never had to pull us in by bragging about who did the voices of Snow White or Nemo.