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Saturday February 4th

Superior Animation Makes 'Ice Age' A Fun, Frosty, Family-Oriented Flick

4 Stars

While "Ice Age" may not be the next coming of animated perfection, this family-friendly film is sure to please.

Starring the voices of Ray Romano, Denis Leary and John Leguizamo to name a few, "Ice Age" weaves a story of good conquering evil via acceptance and loyalty to friends.

Romano, ("Everybody Loves Raymond") lends his voice to a woolly mammoth named Manfred, a solitary ancestor of the elephants who refuses to migrate south with all the other animals at the coming of the Ice Age.

An atypical mammoth, should such personality suppositions be made, Manfred is annoyed by the company of others. Hence it is only natural that upon his backward journey he pick up a few stragglers along the way.

Sid the sloth, voiced by Leguizamo ("Moulin Rouge"), finds protection behind Manfred's giant tusks as two rhinoceros-esque creatures chase him down. When Manfred saves the day, Sid decides he has found himself a friend.

But while "Ice Age" could be a "woe is me, why doesn't anybody love me?" kind of story about social outcasts, Sid and Manfred form an honest, if not slow to grow, friendship. In a case of brawn protecting the brains, though an argument could be made that Manfred is both and Sid is neither, Manfred warms up and lets down his trunk.

Now throw in just enough of a dash of evil to earn a PG rating and give it some piercing teeth and razor-sharp claws. Enter Diego the saber-toothed tiger, voiced by Leary ("The Thomas Crown Affair").

Perhaps Hollywood has decided that Spanish-sounding names just ooze animated evil sidekick vibes -- remember Iago the parrot from Aladdin? -- but regardless Diego plays the part. Diego and his gang of fellow saber-toothed tigers are significantly more foreboding than the massive glaciers threatening to flatten or freeze everything in their path.

A twist of fate in life's martini glass, Diego is forced to join Manfred and Sid on their northbound trek, and the unlikely herd venture off to find themselves, save the world or something equally sappy.

And that is where "Ice Age" falters. In its attempts to establish a plot, the film slows to a staggering pace with belabored dialogue replacing the situational humor that colors the movie's first half.

Screw the Scrat (a squirrely character who makes his appearance in the opening credits) and his acorn, screw Sid and his charmingly self-centered habits -- let's talk about our feelings.

Yet feelings are what make "Ice Age" a pseudo-Disney family film and not just an animated short. While the messages of acceptance of others, triumph in the face of adversity and sticking up for your friends is marred by its methodology, they nonetheless rings true.

What makes "Ice Age" a classic is the quality of the product. The film's animation is technically amazing. Oceans shimmer, smoke gently wafts from campfires and the painstaking details of the characters makes them come to life on screen.

Such animation is a step beyond "Shrek" and "Final Fantasy: The Sprits Within." It closes the gap between what the mind can imagine and what the hand can produce. That said, the hands at Fox Films have produced a visual masterpiece -- it's just too bad their plot lines didn't follow suit.

The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at

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