Riding a wave of good feeling toward animated films, The Ice Age made a jaw-dropping $46 million in its opening weekend, in turn setting a new March record and reversing the fortunes of Fox's animation wing following the disappointing Titan A.E. (2000). An instant contender for the 2002 Best Animated Feature Oscar, The Ice Age can be viewed as derivative in its approach nonetheless. The central relationship between a dyspeptic woolly mammoth (Ray Romano) and the talkative sloth who follows him (John Leguizamo) is Shrek all over again, their guardianship of a lost human baby has shades of Monsters, Inc., and the prehistoric migration milieu even triggers unfortunate Dinosaur flashbacks. But beyond its basic structure, which must hew closely to standard guidelines to be successful, The Ice Age is a glittering fiesta of images bolstered by clever, laugh-out-loud set pieces. The animation itself is edgier than its closest digital contemporaries, mingling styles that recall claymation and old Hanna-Barbera cartoons into a finely detailed, visually arresting patchwork. The fact that it doesn't directly resemble an existing style is rare in an industry where imitation is not only commonplace, but expected (see Dreamworks' first forays into Disney-style animation). The film's great running joke finds a squirrel chasing an acorn between converging glaciers, avoiding extinction in improbable ways. It also scores with set pieces in which the characters slip down a sort of ice cavern water slide, and steal melons from a band of apocalypse-fearing dodos, who have a hard time staying alive. The Ice Age shows mastery of how to underuse its dialogue, as well, including the fascinating choice to leave the humans voiceless. The comic relief role usually has a high irritation quotient, but Leguizamo's lispy, slurring voice is surprisingly tolerable. And the moments of complete silence are the most notable, as when a wall of cave drawings recounts the sad loss of the mammoth's family. The complete package is one of the more satisfying, not to mention technically accomplished, family movies to come along in years.
by Derek Armstrong review