Movie Review: Ice Age
John Leguizamo, an actor of almost dizzying versatility, can do lots of good things in diverse formats, from scintillating one-man multi-character stage shows like "Freak" and "Mambo Mouth" to great roaring musicals like "Moulin Rouge," where he's a pop Toulouse-Lautrec.
But who could have guessed Leguizamo also might be the new Mel Blanc?
In the all-digital feature cartoon "Ice Age," an enjoyable slapstick family romp, Leguizamo plays Sid the Sloth, a lazy but lovable creature whose general haplessness and hysteria summons up any number of funny animal cartoon patsies, from Sylvester the Pussycat and Daffy Duck (both voiced by Blanc) to recent animated weirdos like Nathan Lane's Timon the Meerkat in "The Lion King" and Eddie Murphy's nameless donkey in "Shrek." The computer animators give this movie something special and so does Leguizamo. He displays real genius for cartoon characterization, matching his character's floppy, slothful helplessness with a sibilant, hissing, slightly crazed voice that's just right. If the late Chuck Jones were still making Looney Tunes, Leguizamo would be an ideal offscreen screamer for him and I can't think of a higher compliment than that for a cartoon-voice actor.
"Ice Age" itself is an often rollicking show about an awesome trek by a mismatched animal band to return a human infant to its tribe just as the last Ice Age begins, perhaps 111,500 years or so ago. The movie, in which Leguizamo's sloth is joined by Ray Romano as Manfred the Woolly Mammoth and Denis Leary and Goran Visnjic as Diego and Soto the Saber-toothed Tigers, was directed by Chris Wedge, who made the virtuosic computer-short cartoon Oscar winner "Bunny." And though it's not as good as "Shrek" or "Monsters, Inc.," the last two digitally animated blockbusters, it doesn't have to be. Those two movies raised the stakes, just as "Toy Story" and "Toy Story 2" did before them, and "Ice Age" settles comfortably into the joyously intricate new cartoon terrain they all helped create.
On its own, this movie is lots of fun: fast, witty, full of zingy gags and jaw-dropping imagery of vast glaciers and endless landscapes and snowscapes. It also has a terrific running gag involving Scrat, a frantic little prehistoric being that's half-squirrel and half-rat, and spends the entire movie trying to bury an acorn in the ice fields and undergoing one Wile E. Coyote-style disaster after another. Scrat is voiced by Wedge, and these recurring gags, separated and strung into a short cartoon, would have been a little classic all in themselves.
In the movie's first few minutes we actually witness the incident that, according to Wedge's troupe, started this Ice Age. Scrat tries to bury his acorn near a huge glacier by ramming it into the ice. The ice begins to crack and move, the glacier descends, and soon Scrat is frenziedly trying to save both his life and his acorn.
As the Ice Age begins and a vast migration of the movie's humans and animals starts, we gradually meet the other characters, including slaphappy Sid and dour mammoth Manfred, a maverick who's marching in the opposite direction from everyone else. We also meet a vicious band of saber-toothed tigers led by sadistic Soto (Visnjic) who attack a human tribe, endangering a mother and her baby girl, Roshan (Tara Strong), who ends up, in a prototype cliffhanger, near a roaring rapids and waterfall. It's there that Roshan falls into the hands of the odd, bickering couple Sid and Manfred and soon (a little too soon, for plausibility's sake) they march off together with Roshan in search of her parents. Trailing and finally joining them is a saber-toothed spy, Diego (Denis Leary), who has been dispatched to keep track of them and lead them into a trap.
The movie has a highly predictable plot, but within its familiar routines, Wedge and his animators work all kinds of clever lines and nifty little tropes intricate messes featuring luckless Sid, truculent Manfred and a host of other Ice Age refugees, including a whole menagerie of self-destructive dodos and two lumberingly inept rhinoceri, voiced by Stephen Root and Cedric the Entertainer (of Spike Lee's "The Original Kings of Comedy").
In addition to Leguizamo and Wedge, there are other good vocal performances in "Ice Age," including Leary as Diego and Jack Black as Ice Age hipster Zeke. But the movie's star, Ray Romano as Manfred the Woolly Mammoth, is not one of its shining lights. Try as I might, I never believed Romano as a woolly mammoth. Maybe Romano who just sounds like "Everybody Loves Raymond's" schmo pretending to be an elephant just couldn't think himself under the skin of a woolly mammoth the way Leguizamo can slip into his sloth persona.
That doesn't necessarily hurt the film. It's a fast, funny picture, and the worst thing you can say about it is that it's no "Toy Story," no "Shrek." That may be true, but one thing "Ice Age" proves is that the new digitized cartoons are a form whose time has come.
Real Ice Ages were no jokes. They lasted about 100,000 years and froze most life on the planet. But as long as Leguizamo's Sid and Wedge's Scrat are on screen, this one warms you with laughter.
Directed by Chris Wedge; written by Michael J. Berg and Michael J. Wilson and Peter Ackerman; edited by John Carnochan; production designed by Brian McEntree; music by David Newman; produced by Lori Forte. A 20th Century Fox release; opens Friday, March 15. Running time: 1:28. MPAA rating: PG (mild peril).
Manfred Ray Romano
Sid John Leguizamo
Diego Denis Leary
Soto Goran Visnjic
Zeke Jack Black
Roshan Tara Strong
Scrat Chris Wedge