Unless you count the colon and the subtitle (where a number might have helped more), nothing distinguishes Ice Age: The Meltdown as a sequel to the animated hit from 2002.
Both are blandly voiced, simply plotted, inoffensively average children’s films, although this rates a tick above the first if only because shoddily animated cave dwellers are nowhere to be seen.
Both are at their best when characters that talk at warp speed shut up for a moment and contemplate something.
Both are saved from being utterly forgettable by the wordless whining and expertly framed physical comedy of squirrel Scrat, again bedeviled in his ongoing quest to protect his nut.
Scrat (voiced by Chris Wedge, who co-directed Ice Age but sticks to vocal work here) is all over Ice Age: The Meltdown’s posters. Its preview, as was the original, is the first scene of the actual movie. His actions, and the reactions to them from kids, also are the only reason worth watching for those whose ages rise above single digits.
Never could an entire movie revolve around a silent squirrel’s quest for food, but Scrat’s kung-fu defense of his property against piranhas, a Jurassic Park-style chase between him and a bird and a coda that’s alternately morbid, clever and charming are great fun.
Almost everything else is fairly disposable, save for another wordless moment of a mammoth’s self-discovery that — now you’re catching on — is exactly like a section in Ice Age.
Having saved a cavebaby and dispatched their differences, put-upon mammoth Manny (Ray Romano), sardonic tiger Diego (Denis Leary) and lisping sloth Sid (John Leguizamo) now cohabitate with other animals in a peaceful valley. Peaceful, that is, until smooth-talking armadillo Fast Tony (whose nose must be a riff on voice actor Jay Leno’s chin) proclaims the towering ice shears nearby are beginning to melt.
Manny, Diego and Sid initially reject Tony’s claim as hogwash, but an unexpected trip to the top proves to them he’s right. With other creatures of the valley, the trio treks toward a boat Tony promises will lead everyone to safety.
Along the way, Sid deals (again) with a lack of respect, Diego copes (again) with not being quite the strong cat he could be and Manny ponders (again) his place in the evolutionary chain as, quite possibly, the last mammoth on the planet.
Manny’s story gets the most screen time, as he meets Ellie (Queen Latifah), a mammoth who has taken up with two daredevil possums and now believes she’s a possum, too. The joke is carried far beyond funny, but a flashback to why Ellie believes that is the movie’s only heartfelt, resonant bit.
Apart from that are expected jokes where animal lingo becomes rude doublespeak (animal kids laughing at talk of wild asses, a beaver yelling “Dam!”), pop-culture references (predatory vultures singing “Food, Glorious Food”), evolutionary riffs (“The dinosaurs got cocky. They made enemies.”) and farting — or, as Sid puts it, “putting the stink in extinction.”
The action also seems rougher, what with thawed-out water predators stalking the protagonists, some precarious dangling over a cliff and a scary walk through a minefield of hot-steam eruptions.
Admittedly, Ice Age: The Meltdown feels less thrown together in terms of storyline, but it’s also more noticeably padded with characters and oddball situations to yield a longer running time. Sid might be hailed as “Fire King” by a nutty band of sloths, but Scrat is the real ruler of this franchise.