Peril and Purity at Play 

*Ice Age (PG)
20th Century Fox

Alongside its immaculate blending of captivating vocal characterizations by a group of superbly talented actors, Ice Age triumphs by eschewing the inside adult humor that infiltrates so many other animated children's movies. Where movies like Shrek attempt to cater to adult audiences with not-so-subtle sexual innuendo and overloaded pop-culture cross-referencing, Ice Age stays the course of its genre's Bugs Bunny slapstick humor.

Director Chris Wedge (Oscar winner for animated short Bunny) and co-director Carlos Saldanha go one better than Disney's and Pixar's stilted styles of animation by giving their characters a more fluid three-dimensional depth of personality that coincides with their voices in a way that animation seldom achieves.

That said, the first creature we see is a voiceless cross between a squirrel and a rat appropriately named Scrat. This hapless little bug-eyed creature desires only to bury and protect his precious acorn from the quickly approaching ice age that threatens to obliterate his world's delicate ecosystem. Scrat's humbling experiences with his acorn serve as microcosms for the main story that unfolds in which an unlikely trio of animals returns a lost human baby to his tribe.

Manfred, or Manny as he's called (Ray Romano, Everybody Loves Raymond), is a giant woolly mammoth that chooses to avoid the vast migration of animals away from the advancing cold by going in the opposite direction. Manny's stubborn individualist nature comes as a lucky circumstance for the hyperactive sloth Sid (John Leguizamo, Empire) whom Manny rescues from two very angry rhinos. When Sid discovers an abandoned human baby and resolves to return him to his spear-carrying family members, things change quickly for the newfound buddies.

Dennis Leary (of The Job) is the voice of Diego, a wily feline predator who will stop at nothing to get the baby into his pointy clutches. By promising to guide Sid and Manny through the mountainous tundra Diego joins the uphill pilgrimage. The role is well suited to Dennis Leary's crafty sense of deadpan humor and makes for some toothpick rolling moments of villainous fun.

But it's John Leguizamo's lisping Sid who leverages the humor farthest with surprising rhythms of vocal delivery that function like a Morse code of rapid-fire comic barbs. Leguizamo's infectious energy is given full reign as the feisty Sid and it's his character who links the main narrative to Scrat's recurring subplot. Although the actors recorded their parts separately, there's chemistry between the cartoon characters that plays like a symphony of toy instruments playing a well-rehearsed Duke Ellington tune.

-- Cole Smithey


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