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Ice Age

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  • Noel Vera
    Nice age Noel Vera Chris Wedge and Carlos Saldanha’s “Ice Age” begins with its best joke: a small rodent trying to drill an acorn into the frozen ice for
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 4, 2002
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      Nice age

      Noel Vera

      Chris Wedge and Carlos Saldanha�s �Ice Age� begins with its best joke: a
      small rodent trying to drill an acorn into the frozen ice for safekeeping.
      He hammers it a touch too hard, and the ice cracks--all the way across the
      wintry wasteland and up a frozen mountainside, essentially starting the
      great migration of glaciers and thousands of years of icy domination.

      It�s a great sick joke, an unholy cross between Mark Twain�s classic �What
      Stumped the Bluejays� and that old saying about butterfly wings in one
      corner of the world triggering typhoons in another. It�s also the high
      point of �Ice Age,� after which the adult parent accompanying the child (I
      doubt if any adult will be watching by himself) will find the film a long,
      weary slog--maybe not to extinction, exactly, but something close. The film
      feels and tastes like a gallon of Coca-Cola--sweet, fizzy, and unsatisfying;
      nausea-inducing, if you drink it all the way down by yourself.

      The story goes something like: giant sloth named Sid (John Leguizamo) teams
      up with woolly mammoth named Manfred (Ray Ramano) to escort lost human baby
      (Cro-Magnon, by the look of him) to his father. Meanwhile, saber-toothed
      tiger named Diego (Denis Leary) claims to lead the motley crew to their
      objective, but is really leading them to an ambush by his fellow tigers.

      Which is all there is to the film, more or less. There�s some attempt at
      evolutionary humor (simpler than you�d think--a few jabs at the evolutionary
      process, with plenty of cheap shots at dodo birds), and some heavy drama
      (Diego trying to decide whose side he�s really on); by and large, however,
      it�s pretty very thin stuff. Sid whines and cadges and makes himself
      insufferable for the length of the film (as comic relief he�s as badly
      misjudged as Jar-Jar Binks was in �The Phantom Menace�); Manfred glowers and
      makes tough-guy remarks. Diego being the Judas of the group has the most
      complex role, and Leary makes the most of it with his surprisingly deep,
      soulful voice, but mainly he�s confined to staring at the others with
      pained, angsty eyes.

      Aside from the dodo jokes and the not-as-fun-as-the-filmmakers-think sight
      of three oddball creatures getting on each other�s nerves, there�s what I
      like to call the amusement park rides. Those are the moment in most
      Hollywood animated films where the narrative simply shuts down and we�re
      treated (or rather, inflicted) with an endless series of drops, caroms,
      loop-the-loops and other stunts that look suspiciously like what you�d get
      on a roller coaster. The merest excuse will do--in this case, the team
      tries a short cut through some ice caves--and it�s a cheap way to fill out
      an animated film so that it reaches feature length (usually defined as
      anything over an hour). It�s also an insult to one�s intelligence--I can
      hop on the real thing anytime; why do I have to waste perfectly good money
      to go through the experience secondhand, through a movie?

      Trying to recall when was the last time I enjoyed an animated movie set on
      ice, I happen to remember Simon Wells� �Balto.� �Balto� had the virtue of
      being a true story, about a half-wolf husky who helped save a small Alaskan
      town by delivering vital medicines. Which is dramatic enough, but the film
      also cooks up a conflict about Balto�s struggling to find acceptance as a
      half breed, never to be completely comfortable in either world of dog or
      wolf--a completely fictional but rather sophisticated conceit to insert in
      an American animated feature (the Japanese, of course, play on a different
      level entirely).

      The conflict mainly works, ably helped by the voice acting (a hunched-over
      Kevin Bacon as Balto, a particularly memorable Bob Hoskins as a Yiddish
      goose), and by the well-crafted script. When at a crucial moment Balto has
      to drag a sled filled with vital medicine up a sheer cliff, he draws
      strength from a footprint he finds by one of his fellow wolves; he sets his
      own paw--which is almost as large--in the print, and realizes: �yes, I have
      the strength and endurance to do this, because I�m a half-breed, I�m
      half-wolf�.� It�s an extraordinary moment, and a triumph of
      characterization and animated storytelling. �Ice Age� in comparison is
      tolerably funny and at 85 minutes relatively short, but has nothing quite as
      powerful.

      (Comments? Email me at noelbotevera@...)


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