OK, so it’s actually been over a week since we saw this movie, but I’ve just been too busy to post a review.
First, my wife and kids really enjoyed the movie, particularly the portions with “Scrat” the prehistoric squirrel-rat that keeps trying to acquire and hold onto an acorn. In the first movie Scrat was simply a lead-in device to pull you into the movie with essentially a short cartoon clip. in Ice Age II, Scrat has a much more active role and his actions are intertwined with the movie so that he is more of a character than simply a device to get your attention.
The animation in this movie is phenomenal. It may be the most detailed and lifelike computer animation I’ve seen so far. You could count the hairs in the mammoth’s eyelids if you wanted to. And I bet that number would never change in the whole movie. Subtle shadings of color and lighting are very realistic and natural. In the whole the animation never distracts you from the movie, except when you appreciate its technical mastery.
The voice work is mostly good. I was surprised to learn that Jay Leno did the voice of one of the more entertaining characters. I’m not really an afficionado of voice talent so all I can really say is that most of the voice work was excellent. However, Ray Romano, who did the voice of the mammoth, still sounds to me like he’s striving too hard for a low-register and many times he comes across as forced and unnatural. But that’s just picky.
My real problem with the movie is that it’s not actually a movie at all. It’s a series of sight gags and comedy sequences strung together with the thinnest of possible excuses for a plot. Many of the sequences are so tangential to the story line that they come across almost as dream sequences, not integral parts of the plot. It feels like the director was simply throwing gags at the audience because he thought they were funny and just had to find a way to fit them into the movie. One particularly dreadful sequence involved an overwhelming number of vultures thrown into a 1940s musical number celebrating the potential opportunity they had for feasting on the rotting flesh of the movie’s stars. It was so clownishly over-the-top and over produced that what little bit of plot you had been able to follow up until then was pretty much blown out of your mind entirely.
However, some of the gag sequences, although totally unconnected to the actual story line, were pretty funny. There was some real comic talent involved in the movie and there are little nuggets of laugh-out-loud frivolity that probably make it worth the time.
And for the kids, it’s fine, they will get a kick out of it. For me it was mostly missed opportunities to see an actual movie instead of a bunch of clips strung together with impressive computer animation.
One final thought. In the original Disney version of “The Jungle Book,” There was one very funny scene involving three vultures. I think that was the inspiration for the vulture musical extravaganza in Ice Age II. But there could not be a more compelling contrast between this movie and the genius of Disney in those days. The Jungle Book version was an absolute masterpiece of understatement and pacing. At the end of a little musical number the vultures sing about friendship, Shere Khan sounds the final verse with a rumbling bass note that is absolutely chilling and pulls you back into the actual plot of the story with an urgency that is palpable. That sets up the final encounter between Mowgli and Shere Khan perfectly.
The scene in Ice Age II, on the other hand, feels like nothing so much as filler.