I enjoyed the computer-animated "Ice Age," and its sequel, "Ice Age: The Meltdown," is just about as good. Sequels are usually made for no other reason than commercial expediency, but I remember thinking when I saw the first film that I wouldn't mind spending more time with Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo), Manny the woolly mammoth (Ray Romano), Diego the saber-toothed tiger (Denis Leary), and especially the prehistoric squirrel, Scrat. Most sequels, in essence, are family reunions, so it helps if you like the family.
In "Ice Age: The Meltdown," the welcomed warming of the climate has resulted in an unfortunate consequence: A glacial dam holding back oceans of water is threatening to break and flood the valley. A vast exodus to the drier end of the valley is begun, with vultures hovering in the air and a pair of newly unfrozen alligatorish marauders darting for prey below the ice.
This time, Diego is more intricately computer-drawn and less volatile. It turns out he has a fear of water. (He's like a straight-faced blood brother to the Cowardly Lion from Oz.) Diego is the most realistic, and therefore the least interesting, of the critters. Sid the sloth, with his purple nose and lisp, is much livelier and funnier. He reaches his apotheosis when he accidentally finds himself in the company of a village of sloths who believe him to be a fire god. They become a squirmy mass of hysterical worshipers. This part is like a rodent takeoff on "The Man Who Would Be King."
Things drag a bit whenever Manny is around. Maybe it's because, unlike so many of the other creatures, Manny moves slowly and ponderously. He couldn't have been much fun to animate, and his dialogue is often ponderous, too. It doesn't help if your ear is attuned to hearing Romano in "Everybody Loves Raymond." You keep expecting Doris Roberts and Peter Boyle to turn up as armadillos. As Manny's newfound love interest Ellie, a woolly mammoth who thinks she's a possum, Queen Latifah's voice work is even more jarring. She can't be anything but Queen Latifah.
The overall look of this second film is cooler and crisper than the first. CGI animation has now almost entirely replaced hand-drawn animation for features, and with each passing year, the technology improves. The detailing of the characters and their environment here is extremely well worked out - not on a Pixar level but good enough. (Pixar's movies are also much better in the script department.)
Nevertheless, I continue to bemoan the demise of hand-drawn animation, which is almost single-handedly being kept alive by Hayao Miyazaki, the genius behind "Spirited Away" and "Howl's Moving Castle." As far as Hollywood goes, that technique is a lost cause. Movies like "Ice Age: The Meltdown" at least take advantage of the physical flexibility that can be rendered so well in CGI. The creatures are amusingly shape-shifty.
The best parts of the film, as in the original, are the sequences with Scrat squeaking and scrambling after an elusive acorn. This CGI Sisyphus is a triumphant creation and he deserves his own film.
One more thing: So many movies these days are being linked, often quite tenuously, to current politics. Let this new film be no exception. I am happy to say that "Ice Age: The Meltdown" points up for toddlers the dangers of global warming. Grade: B+
• Rated PG for some mild language and innuendo.