Ice Age (U)

Review by Jack Foley

DISNEY, or rather Pixar, can no longer rest on its laurels. The hitherto undisputed kings of animation are up against some serious competition of late, what with Dreamworks' Shrek bidding to wrestle away its Box Office crown last year and now Twentieth Century Fox muscling in on the act with the superb Ice Age.

Set 20,000 years ago, as creatures everywhere are fleeing the onslaught of a new ice age, a mis-matched herd of a different kind is embarking on its own mission - to rescue and return a human infant to his father.

The herd in question consists of a fast-talking but dim sloth named Sid; a moody woolly mammoth named Manny; a scheming sabre-toothed tiger named Diego, and, sporadically, a possessive, acorn-obsessed squirrel known as Scrat.

Their ensuing adventure is a rip-roaring treat capable of appealing to both adults and children alike, featuring a superb script and some terrific visual gags as well as some genuinely moving moments.

The movie features the vocal talents of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary and ER's Goran Visnjic, and is clearly intended to compete with the likes of Shrek and Monsters Inc for ingenuity and Box Office pulling power - and for the most part, it succeeds.

For while it is undeniably similar in content to several of the recent animation features which have come our way - the mis-matched relationship between Manny's ice-olated loner (sorry!) and Sid's fast-talking sloth is virtually a re-run of Shrek and his donkey - it also has an identity all of its own and some truly virtuoso moments.

The herd's encounter with a horde of dim-witted dodos is a blast, for example, as is a wild ride through some ice tunnels later on. And in the disaster-prone Scrat (right), director Chris Wedge has created a genuine scene-stealer guaranteed to bring down the house with his acorn burying ice-capades (his ineptitude evokes memories of Wily Coyote and Roadrunner in their heyday).

In what is proving to be a great period for the animation industry in general (spurred on by the lure of a new Oscar category, no doubt), the creative team behind Ice Age have unveiled themselves to be among the coolest customers around. Audiences will no doubt warm to their talents.