In Ice Age 2: The Meltdown it's the last days of the ice age, and the cold-weather animals that have for millions of years frolicked on earth's glaciers are blissfully unaware of the warm-up that's coming. It's the end of the world as they know it, and they feel fine. Predictably, R.E.M. plays a big part in Ice Age 2's soundtrack.
A shifty Armadillo named Fast Tony (Jay Leno) interrupts the animal's reverie to tell them that the end of the world is coming. He can save them from the impending global flood, for only $19.95! Fast Tony is a con artist, and not exactly a reliable source of information. Manny (voiced by Ray Romano), the wooly mammoth hero from the previous film, is naturally reluctant to buy into all this doom and gloom. That is until he chases his friends Diego (Denis Leary) the sabre-toothed tiger and Sid (John Leguizamo) the somewhat dopey giant sloth , up to the top of a glacier and sees their watery Armageddon approaching for himself. If Fox makes another one, I guess they'll have to drop the Ice Age moniker call it Water World.
Manny and his pals from the previous film convince the other animals around them to escape. Their only hope is to march to the end of their ice locked valley, where a vulture tells them a Noah's Ark like boat waits to save them from the impending flood. The hungry vulture of course is rooting for their deaths and may not exactly be the most reliable source of information, but Manny and his friends are out of options. While on their journey towards safety, Manny comes to grips with the fact that he may be the last of the Wooly Mammoths, only to bump into a female of his species named Ellie (voiced by Queen Latifah). There's a catch… she thinks she's a Possum.
While they march, Scrat, the Looney Tunes inspired squirrel featured so heavily in the movie's trailers, is intercut into the story almost as an intermission between chapters. While Manny, Diego, and Sid try to escape, Scrat remains behind at the doomed glacier, still obsessed with that same old acorn. Unlike in the original film, Scrat's little viginettes actually serve a purpose in the story this time. I mean beyond being knee-slappingly funny. While Scrat is crushed, dropped, and partially eaten in a variety of creative ways, we're updated on what's happening with the ever weakening ice dam in the background behind him. The end draws closer, and single-minded Scrat chases his acorn around at ground zero.
Meltdown is a big step up from the original Ice Age. The story is sharper, smarter, and funnier. It helps that there's no time is wasted with cavemen in this one, allowing the film to focus entirely on its animal characters. But the script is just flat out funnier, with more jokes aimed right over the head of their pre-teen audience. I doubt the kids will notice, but adults should get a good chuckle. The addition of side characters like Fast Tony and a wider animal cast gives the movie more life, and the sense of danger as their world slowly crumbles around them is satisfyingly present. It's not exactly intense, this is after all a rather silly film by computer animated standards, but at least there's some attempt to get the audience involved in its story.
The animation is better too. It's still of considerably lower quality than the work of Pixar or DreamWorks, but Fox's Blue Sky animation department seems content to be third best. They have improved on themselves if not on their competition. A lot of the weird, rough edges of the previous movie have been replaced with a more polished sheen. This sequel product looks less like a videogame cut scene and more like an actual movie. At the same time, Ice Age 2 remains exceedingly cartoony. But that's exactly what they're going for. It's Acme gags with a little more story and a little more heart.