Of all the studios trying to emulate Pixar's particular blend of quality CGI, comedy, adventure, and simple heart, Fox probably came closest with Ice Age, the story of a grumpy mammoth (Ray Romano), a dim-witted sloth (John Leguizamo), and a predatory saber-toothed tiger (Denis Leary) who become unlikely friends. Ice Age packed a ton of story into a small space, with subplots about all three major characters in addition to its central adventure, and it careened along at a rapid pace while still finding time for gentle moments.


Apparently the filmmakers used up all the plot the first time out. The inevitable sequel, Ice Age: The Meltdown, is an empty, echoing balloon with a few stray thoughts rattling around inside, most cribbed from the first film. Ice Age co-director Carlos Saldanha goes solo this time (his partner Chris Wedge went on to direct Fox's Robots), but much of the blame lies with screenwriter Jon Vitti, a Simpsons and King Of The Hill vet who constructs The Meltdown like one of his TV projects: as a string of gags and setpieces with only the thinnest connective tissue. The original cast returns, with the characters still acting as their own makeshift herd, especially when they're told that Romano's mammoth may be the last of his kind. When they realize the Ice Age is ending, they and their prehistoric-animal neighbors attempt to escape their bowl-like valley before it fills with water and vicious aquatic predators. Along the way, they encounter some obnoxious proto-possums (Seann William Scott and Josh Peck) and their "sister" (Queen Latifah), a female wooly mammoth raised by possums and doggedly convinced she is one. The unsavory question of whether the two mammoths will get it on and save their species becomes an obsessive plot point, which is odd given that the story is otherwise pitched to the very young and very short of attention span.

Vitti manages scattered memorable bits, as when a flock of vultures hopefully shadowing the stars breaks into a choreographed rendition of "Food, Glorious Food" from Oliver! And like Midwestern weather, The Meltdown has the advantage of variety: finding a scene dull? Wait a minute, the film will soon skitter off in a new direction. But it's still more like watching a typical animated-shorts collection—a few highlights, a lot of clinkers—than like watching an actual movie.