It’s kinda like how The Flinstones was really The Honeymooners, except as a prehistoric cartoon. The Ice Age movies are sitcoms, except instead of a homely doofus as the goofy guy married to the impossibly attractive, impossibly forgiving, and yet still endlessly nagging wife, it’s a couple of mammoths with a bachelor sabertooth tiger and a dimbulb ground sloth as the wacky neighbors.
This is how far cartoons have descended in the last decade and a half: The Lion King was Shakespearean. Ice Age is Everybody Loves Raymondean.
This time out, Ray Romano’s (Eulogy, Welcome to Mooseport) Manny the Mammoth is about to be a dad, and you don’t even need to see the movie to know that he’s going to overreact in the most — pardon the pun — cartoonish way to having a baby, which is just about the most perfectly normal thing two higher mammals can do. You don’t need to see the movie to know that there will be jokes about females stressing out about gaining baby weight — “Do you think my ankles look fat?” Manny’s pregnant “wife,” Ellie (the voice of Queen Latifah: The Secret Life of Bees, Mad Money) asks; “What ankles?” he replies; cue laugh track, cue groans. Complications ensue as Diego the tiger is feeling left out; no, not because he’s fighting any carnivorous urges to eat the baby, because he’s not a tiger, remember: he’s Ed Norton. (Diego is voiced by Denis Leary [Recount, Company Man], whose trademark bitter snark is completely avoided here — why else would you cast Leary if not to take advantage of that glorious quality of his?) Further complications ensue as Sid the sloth (the voice of John Leguizamo [Nothing Like the Holidays, Righteous Kill], whom I’d like to hear be this silly in a movie that deserves his talent), also longing for parenthood, adopts three dinosaur eggs to love them and raise as his very own.
Say what? Dinosaur eggs? By Richard Dawkins’ nightmares, have young-earth creationists taken over 20th Century Fox, and are trying to brainwash our children into believing that brontosauruses and woolly mammoths walked the earth together 6,000 years ago? Well, no: there’s a perfectly acceptable fantasy explanation. It’s all to do with a lost world under the ice, where giant reptiles escaped that big meteor and survived (although suspiciously without further evolution) for 64.5 million years.
Oddly, none of that bothers me as much as Ellie’s looking at Sid’s baby T. rexes in wonder and marveling, “I thought those guys were extinct,” because I had no idea mammoths had developed paleontology. And that doesn’t bother me as much as Momma T. rex, when she inevitably comes for her babies, not eating Sid the moment she encounters him. And that doesn’t bother me as much as the jokes about body waxing, accidental penis pulling, and homophobia in what is supposed to be a children’s film.
And none of that bothers me as much as projecting sitcom-dad neuroses onto a cartoon mammoth: “Guys don’t talk to other guys about guy problems,” Manny must explain patiently to Ellie, as if she hadn’t been coping with his idiocy for years; “they just punch each other in the shoulder.” Here’s a few things that we should let go extinct: the stereotypes of men as unemotional idiots and women as clueless nags that must be endured as a curse of the fates, or something.
There are bright spots. The Scrat, the sorta-squirrel, sorta-rat creature who has eyes for nothing but acorns, finds a lady love this time around, a Scrat with long eyelashes and blue eyeshadow and sexy fingers (*sigh*) and a killer instinct for acorn gathering herself. But Simon Pegg (Star Trek, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People) brings the only inspired voice performance as Buck, a weasel lost in the lost world and gone slightly mad in his attempts to survive a realm of killer dinosaurs who’d love to snack on him. He gets all the best lines, too, as if the writers were tired of the existing characters and could manage to raise their flagging enthusiam for the series only with his fresh ferrety blood. Buck’s hilarious, and in his own unique way, not as a sorry reflection of a worn-out clichés.