Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Armaggedon: For Children

What's that? A best-of-TV survey? And you should participate? Go here for the rules, here to enter.

Anyway, just as this seems to be becoming known as a TV blog, I think I'll write about some other things (South Dakota has made me not watch as much TV as I normally would). The three things I feel qualified to write about are TV, literature and film (in roughly that order). I really like the stage, but there's a lot I have to catch up on there. So expect some books and movies posts over the next few days.

Anyway, Ice Age: The Meltdown is a deeply frustrating (and oddly apocalyptic) film. It zig-zags all over the place, never really picking up any narrative momentum, piling on scenes that just sort of seem to be there to pad out the film's length. But every other scene is filled with such visual energy and imagination that you just wish the storyline had been better.

If there's one thing this film proves, it's that computers can now do just about everything hand-drawn animation can. Computer animation could never QUITE do the sort of slapstick lunacy that was the calling card of the old Warner Bros. cartoons (and some of the other classic shorts from other studios). In Meltdown, computers have finally caught up. There are some dazzlingly executed moments of funny, slapstick-y action here that remain constantly involving (Scrat, in particular, steps up his game here in one of those classic, Sisyphean cartoon struggles). The film has its share of pop-culture references (which have become the bane of computer-animated films since Shrek hit it big), but they are never as prominent as the Looney-Tunes-esque lunacy that takes centerstage.

But maybe that means the Ice Age characters (especially Scrat) should just spin off into a series of shorts. Because this doesn't really work as a movie. The first film was pretty cliched, but it was sweet enough, and the characters were well-done children's film types. Here, the characters don't have a lot to DO, especially Denis Leary's Diego, who was a vital presence in the first film.

But, as I said, this all may be worth it for some of the crazy wackiness on display. A long section that takes place on a series of rocks that shift and nearly tumble endlessly feels to have stepped out of a lost Road Runner cartoon, and the film ends on its strongest joke, the ultimate disappointment for Scrat (I will say no more), which even leads to a close straight out of the WB legacy.

There's some inspired work here, but it gets buried under its need for an overarching story to tie it all together. The weird grimness and end-of-the-world tone also don't quite work, as they never take the turn into darkly comic (as I think they were intended to).

But, hey, finally a kids movie for your 10-year-old who won't stop babbling about Peak Oil. (And if he's doing that, he's both very smart and well-prepared. But he also probably doesn't have a lot of friends.)

And who doesn't love a mammoth?


Moses said...

I'm still confused as to how Scrat can be in the sequel considering how the first film ended. And I thought the first film was pretty apocalyptic enough with its reminder that all of its main characters have long since DIED. This just takes it even further.

Todd VanDerWerff said...

I've actually forgotten how the first one ended. But Scrat seems to be pretty malleable, like the great short subject cartoon heroes.

And, sure, all of the characters went extinct, but in the first one, there was that human baby hanging around. Now, we all know how THAT species turned out.

But in the second one, Manny's whole plot thread is about trying to not go extinct. Which is fine.

But. . .since we know he WILL go extinct. . .does that make this a great, lost Ionesco play?