Wednesday, 22 November 2006

Ice Age 2: The Meltdown (2006)

This review was originally posted on Ian's Personal Blog on 22nd October 2006.

Ice Age 2I should say right off the bat that although I own the DVD of the first Ice Age movie, it's one of the few DVDs where five minutes in I just ejected it, deciding it really wasn't my cup of tea. Nothing seemed to be happening and the animation just didn't seem up to scratch.

This time around I stayed to the end.

The film isn't bad, and there are a few smiles in it, but plot-wise it's a bit of a mess. A very thin story is used to hang a bunch of sketches off, and these sketches are mildly amusing, but nothing more.

The basic story is this: The ice is melting, the animals hear of a boat that will help them sail away and they head off to find the boat as the floods chase them away from the valley that was their home. The main narrative thrust involves what appears to be the last mammoth discovering a female mate who think she's a possum on the way. This is basically a 15 minute plot, stretched out to an hour with some 'Roadrunner' style cartoons (featuring a squirrel chasing an acorn) interrupting the action every quarter hour to ensure it has something approaching a normal film's running time.

Kids will love it, but this is not one of those 'can be viewed at two levels' films intended to keep the adults entertained too. The film also struggles with its basic plot which is about extinction. How do you have such a back-story without scaring the kids? An ill-thought out, but thankfully short, sequence introduces some bad-guy crocodile-type dragon creatures that track one or two of the creatures. When the death is played for laughs (a bird flies into the air, gets flamed and comes down to earth as a pot roast) it works fine, but in one scene the off-screen death of one creature is far too scary for the age-range the rest of the film is playing to.

More worryingly, from an adult viewer's point of view, the CGI just isn't very good. It looks too much like a computer game rather than a movie for most scenes. It's very hard to understand how this film could have cost $80 million - that's almost as much as Finding Nemo cost - when the 3D rendering is as poor and inconsistent as it is here. Background scenes often start out as true almost photo-realistic 3D and then suddenly shift to traditional cartoon drawing cell-animation 2D. It all feels like the come-down of watching one of those cheap Hanna-Barbera TV cartoons (where only the mouths move on the characters) having been spoilt by seeing a bunch of Disney cartoons at the cinema. Previous CGI movies have raised the bar of what we expect, but this just lowers it again to a level that I think is unacceptable. I come back to that Dustin Hoffman quote (yesterday's blog) where the accountants have taken over and bad work is applauded just because of the profits being made, where in the past someone somewhere would have said 'This just isn't good enough yet!' before inflicting it on a captive audience.

There's a strong set of character stereotypes here that should provide plenty of laughs and merchandising opportunities, but the CGI work is so obviously 'CGI that ran out of time' I can't see kids falling in love with these characters, the way they would naturally do with previous 'toon stars. On the vocal side Queen Latifah does a great job as the world's last, very ditzy, female mammoth, but George Clooney doesn't quite ring true as the strong, but kindly, sabre-toothed tiger and even characters like Sid the Sloth don't really stand out the way say Robin Williams did in Disney's Aladdin.

Ice Age 2 screencap

The first thing that should be said is that the transfer, as to be expected from a completely CGI source, is fantastic. Unfortunately this only serves to emphasise the low quality of some of the 3D rendering and the weird 'sometimes 3D, sometimes 2D' nature of the scene backgrounds. The DVD Amray case itself is packaged in a nice embossed outer cardboard sleeve, presumably to justify the 'luxury' pricing of this two disk special edition, because the truth is the second disk of this two disk set is VERY thin indeed and doesn't justify the claims made that this is a bumper DVD pack.

The DVD is generous in giving us two adult-oriented commentary tracks, although given that all the other extra's (like the film) are very obviously aimed at kids rather than parents, this seems a very odd choice, particularly since the extra's on the second disk could easily have been included on the first disk if the commentaries had been removed. One is forced to the conclusion that the commentaries are ONLY here to justify the bumper pricing that can be applied when extra's spill over to a second disk. I'm afraid I had so little interest in the film I didn't bother checking out the documentaries which are from the director (who looks about twelve - I think this means I'm now officially 'old') and then a separate one from the crew.

The packaging indicates a seeming deluge of extra's but don't be fooled! These many features are really a single 20 minute featurette masquerading as many more, with each being just one or two minutes long. The best extra by far is a new five minute 'digitoon' of the Road-Runner rip-off character 'Scrat' included on the first disk. Entitled 'No Time for Nuts' it features Scrat chasing his acorn through the ages thanks to a time machine he discovers. Five minutes of excellence that's better than the main film itself.

The rest of the extra's are mostly of the 'sleepy-eyed director and assistant forced into the office early on a Sunday morning explain who the characters are' variety, while a friend with a home video camera films them. Thankfully they are short in length because if you've seen the film you KNOW who the characters are and don't really want to sit through endless clips used to illustrate who the character is all over again. There are three 'How to get started' (actually split up so they look like there's more) videos for kids which are very good: one on sketching, one on sculpting, and one on voicing a cartoon. But again none are more than a few minutes long. There's also a 'sound lab' that shows a short scene from the film and allows the viewer to change the sound effects used on the clip from the basic 'Animals' sound effect to 'cars', 'human noises' (endless belches!) to musical instruments. It starts off well but gets more and more desperate and inappropriate to the visuals once you move past the first couple of options. There's also a music video from ex-Blue singer, Lee Ryan, that is embarrassing in the banality of its lyrics and lack of any kind of attempt at a melody or chorus - no wonder his career's considered over already if this is all his record company could get for him!

If you've got kids who liked the original movie this is a purchase. If you like more intelligent digitunes, something of the quality of Toy Story, Shrek or Finding Nemo, this most definitely isn't it and should be just a rental. Personally I think it should carry a sticker carrying the warning 'For young kids only'.

Ice Age 2 screencap


Jadyn said...

Ok, I'm 11 and I love the trilogy of Ice age, this is a kids film and its hilarious, just forget about being a critic and focus on the fun of the film. I cant believe you are giving this film such a bad name, the graphics are amazing! And no, a groupof 11 and 10 year olds watched the brilliant film and alll loved it so its not for young kids, but I must say Ice age 3 Dawn of the Dinosaurs is much better

Ian said...

Your definition of "hilarious" is clearly different from mine. I notice you dont' comment on any of the real criticisms of the film I made, but just confirm it's for kids. I suggest you watch some of the other films I mentioned and compare them. They are funnier and better. They also benefit from being of interest to adults and not just 11 year olds!

Jadyn said...

Infact, I have watched all the films, I agree that toy story has a more sophisticated story line. Finding Nemo is good to yet has the same quality of graphics, Shrek is good to but each of these CHILDRENS films have an elemint of adult humour. I do believe that in your blog, you fight your own words by quoting that it is for younger kids, then you say that extinction is too scary for children, I believe that this is a good educational film which expresses the harshness of mother nature. Please reply,

Sincerly, Jadyn, 11

Ian said...

I disagree completely. The educational value is close to zero. The "fighting my own words" was attempting to highlight what a mess the film is: on the one hand the "story" is so thin and weak with no attempt to appeal to adults, on the other they add in pointless stuff that will just scare the kids. I don't believe Finding Nemo has the ridiculously variant changes in quality of the background scenes. Ice Age 2 looks like they ran out of time or money in certain scenes the background shots are so bad. The film should be consistent in quality throughout as all Pixar films are. Unfortunately it isn't.