Ice Age – The Meltdown is a short, funny, well-animated sequel that offers up a new adventure for the memorable characters from the original Ice Age film. As a great bonus, it’s nicely balanced for audiences young and old.
20th Century Fox Animation is still a poor second cousin to Disney’s Pixar Animation Studios, but for sheer entertainment value, Ice Age – The Meltdown doesn’t get knocked completely out of the water by top-shelf blockbusters like The Incredibles. Sure, the animation is weaker, and story is less inspired, but the voice work is excellent, with the talent of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Queen Latifah, Denis Leary, Jay Leno, and the list goes on.
What this film has going for it is it’s simply fun to watch. The story this time around has the ice age coming to an end with a big, um, meltdown. The prehistoric animals must get themselves all the way across the large basin they call home to escape an impending, disastrous flood. Our heroes – Manny, the almost-last-mammoth alive, Sid, the lovable-loser sloth, and Diego, the not-so-tough-after-all saber-toothed tiger – find themselves teaming up with an identity-challenged mammoth, Ellie (Queen Latifah), and her possum “brothers” Crash (Sean William Scott) and Eddie (Josh Peck). Together, they journey toward salvation.
Meanwhile, Skrit, the delightful saber-toothed squirrel, is too busy stalking his acorn to notice the world is about to end. The hilarious sequences with this manic little guy serve as comic transitions for the main story, and they also keep us posted on the progress of the big flood. But mainly, they’re just plain funny.
When this film first hit theatres, critics attacked it for its obvious attempt to push an environmental agenda. Sure, there’s a thinly-veiled message here, but who cares? Kids should be concerned about the environment, so why not exaggerate to make a point?
Overall, we’re talking about an enjoyable prehistoric animated romp, and a sequel that maybe outdoes the original. This is an all-ages friendly film, and that’s a pretty rare thing.
So how’s the DVD?
Ice Age – The Meltdown is presented on a single disc in 1.85:1 widescreen format. Boy, do we have problems here. From start to finish, this transfer offers up at least 20 instances of serious compression issues – in other words, there are many moments of horribly pixilated picture. These happen almost exclusively on tight shots of fast-moving creatures, and they create reactions ranging from ‘huh?’ to ‘what the *bleep* is wrong with this DVD?’
For the rest of the film, things tend to look great. The colours are rich, and fine detail such as the animals’ fur abounds. Unfortunately, there’s just no excuse for the compression problems.
The menus are animated, with music.
Thankfully, this film sounds a heck of a lot better than it looks. Dialogue is clear, there’s plenty of use of the surround channels for directional effect, and the energetic score is well articulated. The best parts, however, are the geographical effects, like when huge chunks of melting icebergs break off and crash downward. Here the percussive nature of these events comes alive, and your sub will have plenty to do.
5.1 audio is English-only, but Dolby 2.0 Surround is offered in Spanish and French. Also, Spanish and French subtitles are available.
This disc comes packed with extras, including an all-new animated short, two audio commentaries, a whole whack of featurettes, DVD games, DVD-ROM content and various trailers.
The animated short is called No Time For Nuts, and it features our favourite saber-toothed squirrel, Skrit. It runs about seven minutes, and it’s definitely the best piece of bonus material on the disc. Skrit discovers a time machine, and chases his acorn across the time-space continuum. What fun!
There are two audio commentaries; one with director Carlos Saldanha, and one with everyone else who worked on the movie. Ok, maybe not quite that many folks, but the “crew” commentary sure has a lot of voices, from the producer on down to the lighting supervisor. Surprisingly, this commentary works well even with so many cooks in the kitchen, and there’s a lot to learn about the film’s production. As for Saldanha’s commentary, he talks a heck of a lot, but he’s also pretty repetitive and he points out a lot of the obvious. I guess it would be ok for a youthful audience.
Next is Crash & Eddie Stunts, a three-pack of ultra-short featurettes. These are amusing bits with the two possum brothers, but we’re talking about just 60 seconds of content. Not much of a featurette.
On the other hand, we have The Animation Director’s Chair, which is a featurette with some substance. You can choose from six scenes, and then select which stage of production to review – story board, layout, animation, final, or combo, which lets you see all stages at once. It’s neat to see how close the storyboards were to the final version, especially for the “Fish Story” sequence.
Then there’s Meet Crash & Eddie, another short featurette about these two trouble-making possum brothers. It runs just under two minutes, so don’t expect an in-depth character analysis.
Along the same lines, we have Meet Ellie, which takes two minutes to introduce and discuss of the female mammoth voiced by Queen Latifah. Again, not much depth here.
Next up is Lost Historical Films…Student Films on the Ice Age Period, a sub-collection of featurettes on some of the prehistoric/fictional animals featured in the movie. There are six short, black-and-white clips mixing facts and fun, covering guys like The Sloth: “Nature’s Lovable Lisper” and The Saber-toothed Squirrel: “Nature’s Nutty Buddy”. All but one have an old-time narrator, with the exception being John Leguizamo’s lisping narration for the Sloth.
Then there’s Scrat’s Piranha Smackdown Sound Effects Lab, a humorous featurette that offers five different ways to enjoy the 35-second Scrat-Piranha sequence. Each option replaces the film’s sound effects with a different collection of sounds, from Car Noises to Human Noises (read: burps and farts).
Blink and you’ll miss the next ”featurette”, called Outtake Prank. It runs an epic 16 seconds, and shows a “blooper” of the possum catapult stunt. They should have thrown this one in with the Crash & Eddie Stunts.
Silly Sid & John Leguizamo follows, and it’ll probably be a hit with kids. It’s a seven-minute how-to for the character Sid, with a drawing lesson from character designer Peter De Sève, and a voice lesson from John Leguizamo, who does a nice job with the kid-friendly instruction.
Next is another one-minute wonder, Music Montage, which is a disordered mish-mash of clips set to music. We see bits from production, the final film, and premiere events. Not sure what the point is, but ok.
Then it’s back to John Leguizamo for Sloth Dancing to Sid’s Sing-a-long!. It’s a 4-minute lesson teaching kids to do the Fire King dance, from the sequence with the tribe of mini-sloths, which is definitely one of the highlights of the film. Kudos to John for his enthusiastic participation in these featurettes, as I’m they’ll be fun for young fans.
Marketing The Meltdown is a collection of clips from Fox’s promotion of the movie. The highlight here is a 16-second clip of “Scrat on Family Guy”.
Then we have Ice Age Arcade, a collection of DVD games. These include a ridiculous trivia game with questions like “how many times is Sid’s name mentioned in the movie?”, a point-and-click soccer shootout, and a personality quiz called Who’s Your Buddy? which lets you find out which main character you’d get along with best. I suppose these are decent enough for DVD games, but I doubt anyone’s going to spend much time on them.
The bonus material wraps up with some DVD-ROM content and a collection of trailers, including a first look at The Simpsons movie. It’s a bizarre teaser of Homer riding a dog-sled, but it’s pretty amusing. I wonder if it actually has anything to do with the movie.
If you enjoy animated films, you’ll like Ice Age – The Meltdown, as it’s a solid example of what’s right with animated family fare in the 21st century. Unfortunately, the DVD presentation offers up a video transfer ruined by ongoing compression issues. Otherwise, the DVD has great audio and a wide range of special features that will have the most appeal for young viewers.
Special Features List
- All-New Short – “No Time for Nuts”
- Commentaries by Director Carlos Saldanha and by the “crew”
- Crash & Eddie Stunts
- The Animation Director’s Chair
- Crash and Eddie Blooper
- “Meet Ellie” and “Meet Crash and Eddie”
- Lost Historical Films on the Ice Age Period
- Sloth Dancing to Sid’s Sing-a-Long
- Ice Age Arcade, DVD games
- Silly Sid & John Leguizamo featurette
- DVD-ROM features