“Ice Age 2: The Meltdown” surpasses the original film in every way. It is much funnier and packed with clever double entendres that’ll whiz over the kids and hit their parents squarely in the funny bone. The story picks up with Manny the mammoth (Ray Romano), Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo), and Diego the tiger (Dennis Leary) living with a herd of prehistoric animals in a valley surrounded by ice. Through a series of comedic events, the animals learn that the ice is melting and the valley will soon become flooded. The herd, in a reference to Noah’s Ark, hears of a boat that will whisk them all to safety. On their way to the boat, Manny and company runs into a female mammoth, Ellie (Queen Latifah), and her mischievous possum brothers, Crash (Sean William Scott) and Eddie (Josh Peck).

There’s a lot more going on in Ice Age 2. The film adds a host of new characters and addresses complex issues, such as extinction and love, which were nonexistent in the original. Screenwriters Peter Gaulke and Gerry Swallow do an excellent job of incorporating these themes without burdening the film. It remains lighthearted and whimsical. Children will also enjoy the addition of a few well-placed musical numbers. Normally these would make me cringe, but they’re brilliantly set-up and very funny. Fox Animation is closely following the recipe for success dictated by the industry leader, Pixar. They’re putting their emphasis on getting a good script and tailoring the film to the story rather than big special effects.

Scrat, the curmudgeonly squirrel that stole the show in the first film returns to glory here. His quest to hide his beloved acorn soars to new heights and depths, literally, in the sequel. Scrat’s dilemmas are skillfully interwoven into the plot. He pops up when things begin to lag and rejuvenates the film every time he’s onscreen. Scrat had the audience in stitches with his misadventures. Fox has a goldmine with Scrat and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in his own animated feature.

Ice Age 2 also ramps up the special effects. The CGI animation is gorgeous. The filmmakers did the right thing by not going overboard with the characters. They spent their time on the backgrounds and the results are spectacular, especially the water scenes. There’s a fine line between doing too much and not doing enough in CGI animation. Director Carlos Saldanha and his team of animators strike the perfect chord with the ‘look’ of the film.

Fox Animation has a film to be extremely proud of. It’s better than the original and rivals the industry best in quality. It’s not a masterpiece, but shows the studio is heading in the right direction with their animated films. Ice Age 2 is the first must-see family film of 2006.

Ice Age: The Meltdown is out March 29, 2006.

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