A Tasteless Allegory for the Bush Administration?
Ice Age: The Meltdown / Dustin Rowles
Film Reviews | May 13, 2006 | Comments ()
There’s not a lot one can write about Ice Age: The Meltdown that you couldn’t glean from the all-pervasive marketing blitz Twentieth Century Fox has crammed down our esophagi: It’s a generic family flick featuring the voices of mid-level celebrities, lame punchlines borrowed from 1996’s pop-culture lexicon, and nods to Queen Latifah’s ass, which is the only presence in the film that actually rises above the mediocre, mostly lifeless material — largely because it’s hard not to picture her shaking it each time her character speaks. There is little reason to doubt that children three to 11 will probably enjoy the hell out of themselves but, then again, how hard is it to impress kiddies who’ve grown up on “Baby Einstein” videos? Anything approaching coherence probably blows their fucking mind anyway; after all, for little philosophers in the midst of Piaget’s third stage of development and hopped up on Icees and Gummy Bears, simple logic and chronology has got to be like cinematic Ritalin, funneling their concentrative powers into cleverly-designed product placement for animal crackers.
But beyond the family-friendly platitudes and the so-so CGI, what’s really fucked up about this Ice Age sequel is its premise: The animated creatures live in a Cenozoic-age hamlet residing in a large bowl susceptible to flooding, and — presumably due to the effects of global warming — the ice is melting quickly and all of Noah’s animals have to escape the bowl before the dams breaks, drowning its occupants. Honestly, the only thing missing is a Superdome, Anderson Cooper, and Ray Nagin hurling profanities at the Bush Administration. I mean, is it just the cynic in me, or is too hard to imagine that a studio owned by Rupert Murdoch (he who controls Fox News) is trying to present an idealized Animal-Farm-like metaphor for the worst natural disaster in American’s modern history, one in which our President is portrayed by a simple-minded brute-force wooly mammoth, the strings are pulled by the Cheney-like tiger, and Mike Brown is depicted as a slow-moving sloth — and the entire city is saved by the rodent-like Scrat (Michael Chertoff), who just so happens to be in the right place at the right time. If this is, in fact, the subliminal message that Ice Age is trying to present, then it’s a tasteless allegory. Seriously, even the folks behind V for Vendetta had enough sense to delay its release after the bombings in London; you’d think that, unless they are trying to affix a faux-happy ending to an otherwise senseless tragedy, that the people at Twentieth Century Fox wouldn’t be so quick to foist a premise that hits this close to home on an unsuspecting kiddie population and their parents, who have little choice but to attend, lest they are inundated with Bart-Simpson like requests throughout the following two weeks, or at least until the release of The Wild. But then again, maybe it’s all just an eerie coincidence.
Offensive political undercurrents aside, Ice Age: The Meltdown has very little otherwise going for it. Though it’s not as garishly bad as Shark Tale, it’s far removed from superior Pixar productions, the standard for which most kiddie films of this type are compared today. The story follows Manny, the wooly mammoth gratingly voiced by Ray Romano, and his two cohorts, Diego (Denis Leary) and Sid (John Leguizamo), as they try to escape the bowl before the flood hits, a foundation for creating, basically, a meandering road-trip movie, whereby the leads get to run upon unexpected things, like dry land and grass. Manny, who lost his family in the first movie, is still stuck on Kubler-Ross’ final stage and fears that he is the last of his species until he runs into Ellie (Queen Latifah), a mammoth who — thanks to a Tarzan-like upbringing — thinks she’s a possum, a plot contrivance that allows the screenwriters Gerry Swallow and Peter Gaulke to introduce two more comic-relief marsupials, Crash and Eddie, voiced by Josh Peck and Sean William Scott, who runs the gamut of his obnoxiousness, only falling short of actually calling out for more MILFs.
Along their way out of the overflowing basin, very little happens, unfortunately, to distract adult moviegoers from compiling grocery lists in our heads. There are some fart jokes (“He puts the stink in extinction”), an inappropriate allusion to R. Kelly given the target audience, a few simple-minded double entendres, some sexual tension and outmoded gendered humor between Manny and Ellie, and some ghastly underwater creatures that rise up every once in a while to jolt us out of our boredom, but it is otherwise as bland as an ice-flavored snow cone, with one exception: Scrat. Indeed, I’ll admit that the only thing that kept my mind from wandering back to the teaser trailer for The Simpsons: The Movie featured in the previews was the rodent’s Sisyphean pursuit of that goddamn acorn, a simple Chaplinesque subplot that was far more engrossing than the main storyline, a bit no doubt influenced by the old-school Wile E. Coyote’s neverending preoccupation with the Road Runner. Scrat is the film’s scene stealer — Ice Age’s answer to Finding Nemo’s Dory. Unfortunately, given the studio’s penchant for drab, exploitative sequels (Big Momma’s House, Doctor Dolittle), I can only imagine he’ll end up in his own feature next summer, a 90-minute affair in which the acorn gets its own voice (Will Ferrell, probably), Scrat gets a romantic interest, and the studio’s Garfield property makes a surprise cameo as the squirrel-rat’s tracker. Mark it on your calendars.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba and managing partner of its parent company, which prefers to remain anonymous for reasons pertaining to public relations. He lives in Ithaca, New York. You may email him, or leave a comment below.