A road-trip flick for kids
Review: 'Ice Age' is pretty cool
(CNN) -- The golden ring for an animated film is the knack of appealing equally to kids and adults. Few films achieve that feat to the degree of "The Lion King" and, more recently, "Shrek."
"Ice Age" pulls off this difficult trick with aplomb. Set 20,000 years ago -- when residents of the prehistoric world are facing mass extinction because of an impending ice age -- this delightful tale follows the exploits of a most unusual group of mammals as they form an unlikely alliance.
Ray Romano lends his distinctive voice and superb comedic timing to Manfred, an emotionally wounded woolly mammoth who just wants to go his own way as the rest of the animal kingdom migrates to the warmer climates of the South.
John Leguizamo -- one of the wackiest, most talented guys in the business, who has a gift for strange voices -- plays the role of Sid the sloth. A motor-mouthed neurotic who annoys his family so much that they abandon him, Sid bothers a pair of angry rhinos and seeks protection from the reluctant Manfred.
They're about to go their separate ways when they stumble on a human infant, whose mother drowns as they watch. Or hairy heroes don't know that her tribe has been attacked by saber-toothed tigers, and the baby's father is on a desperate hunt to find them. At the same time, the tigers are looking for the baby, whom they've chosen as the main course for their luncheon menu.
Manfred and Sid have just reluctantly decided to join forces to return the baby when they're joined by one of the bloodthirsty tigers, Diego, voiced by Denis Leary. After failing to convince Sid and Manfred to give him the child, Diego joins them under the pretext of helping to track down the human tribe. Of course, the double-dealing cat is really setting a trap.
Over some heads
During a highly entertaining series of dangerous adventures, all three animals fall in love with the human baby, and also develop a deep bond for each other -- even Diego. For kids, these adventures are visually exciting and teach wonderful little lessons about courage and helping others. Meanwhile, adults get a laugh riot full of double entendres, hilarious references to dozens of other films and great visual gags that will go right over their children's heads -- which is just fine.
This is one of 20th Century Fox's first ventures into the world of animation, in partnership with Blue Sky Productions, and they've hit a home run.
Director Chris Wedge won a 1999 Academy Award for his short animated film "Bunny," which showcased his style of warm visuals using natural and ambient light. The animation here is state-of-the-art, and takes minute visual details to new levels. You see the movements of individual hairs, drops of water, facial expressions and even the conveyance of deep emotions through the eyes of the animated characters.
But in the end, of course, it all comes down to the story -- and writers Michael J. Wilson, Michael Berg and Peter Ackerman have created a compelling narrative with believable undertones of truth and themes of friendship and the triumph of similarities over differences. They've even thrown in a hilarious subplot involving a strange little "Scrat" and his obsession with an acorn. (The scrat is part-squirrel, part-rat, and has a range of vocal tics provided by Chris Wedge).
It also doesn't hurt that these guys have a wicked sense of humor that just gets better and better as the story continues.
At its heart, this is a road-trip flick with a journey that's enjoyable, memorable and worth taking more than once. And the way kids invariably like seeing their favorite movies more than once, the quality of this film can only be counted as a blessing for parents -- who sometimes have to sit countless times through mindless movies aimed only at 6-year-olds.
"Ice Age" opens nationwide on Friday and is rated G with a running time of 1 hour, 55 minutes.
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