Ice Age: The Meltdown

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The inevitable “Ice Age” sequel, subtitled “The Meltdown,” is as well-meaning and likable as its predecessor. Neither film is a classic, nor do they exactly brim with originality, but they serve up some laughs and do so without anyone getting hurt.

In fact, the light tone these films achieve is rather remarkable, given the heady subjects they deal with. “Ice Age: The Meltdown” has the mammals from the first film — Manny the mammoth (voice of Ray Romano), Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo) and Diego the saber-tooth tiger (Denis Leary) — adapting just fine to the frozen-over world, only to discover that the ice is now melting. Everyone needs to leave the valley or risk drowning.

(This must be the shortest Ice Age in Earth’s history. Are they sure it wasn’t just, you know, winter?)

With a fast-talking armadillo-ish thing called Fast Tony (Jay Leno) sounding the alarm, all the animals begin the trek to dry ground. Manny and his companions are thrilled to meet another mammoth in their travels (Manny feared he was the last one), a sweet thing named Ellie (Queen Latifah); trouble is, Ellie thinks she’s a possum, having been raised by a family of them. She’s great at playing dead, and you should see her hang upside-down from a branch when she sleeps.

Ellie and her possum brothers, two high-energy little scamps named Crash (Seann William Scott) and Eddie (Josh Peck), join Manny, Sid and Diego, and Manny tries to convince her of her true lineage. Sid, meanwhile, tries to cure the fearsome Diego of his one great fear: water.

The film’s dialogue, by “Simpsons” and “King of the Hill” writer Jon Vitti, induces smiles but seldom laughter, and is often disappointingly weak. When Sid is contemplating going down an insane ice slide in order to earn the other animals’ respect, Manny says, “You jump off that thing, the only respect you’ll get is respect for the dead.” Diego says, “Come on, Manny, he’s not that stupid.” Then Sid jumps, and Diego says, “Of course, I’ve been wrong before.”

I’m sorry: Am I watching “Good Times”? Did someone carrying the “Ice Age” script bump into someone carrying a “Silver Spoons” script, and somehow the pages got mixed up? What is this crap?

But the so-so dialogue is balanced by the film’s often hilarious physical humor, notably in the sequences featuring Scrat, the little squirrel-like fellow in search of an acorn. Some of what happens to him is as ingeniously executed as the classic Warner Bros. cartoons were. There are some very funny slapstick bits involving the other characters, too, suggesting it’s the film’s brawn, not its brains, that makes it a survivor.

B (1 hr., 30 min.; PG, some scariness, and double-entendre usage of words like 'ass' (as in donkey) and 'dam'.)

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