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Warm feeling Critters provide science-free fun in 'Ice Age: The Meltdown'

I want to know what the tiger eats.

I know, watching "Ice Age: The Meltdown," I should just be enjoying the cute, funny friendships among mammoths, squirrels, possums, water buffalo, sloth and what have you. But really, I kept wondering what they ate, and, in particular, what the lovable, curmudgeonly tiger named Diego, voiced by Denis Leary, eats.

You can't tell me the only critters that eat are those nasty buzzards circling overhead and those horrid alligators circling under the ice. Diego has got to eat something. And tigers are carnivores. Plus, anything with the voice of Denis Leary doesn't get to be where it is by being nice to animals and small children.

Well, if Diego grabs a possum here and there for a furtive midnight snack -- and you know, O Best Beloved, that he does -- the makers of "Ice Age: The Meltdown" sweetly gloss it over. This is a happy, sappy view of the wild.

Even Leary, in real life so delightfully loud and foulmouthed, is more or less muzzled. As Diego, he's reduced to muttering lonely-guy rebukes like, "Cut it out, now."

The mammoths get better lines. Queen Latifah lends charm to big, long-tusked Ellie, the perfect foil for gruff Manfred, voiced by Ray Romano. My mom will be mad, but I have to quote them:

Ellie: "Tell me something you like about me."

Manfred: (Embarrassed.) "Well . . . your butt is big."

Ellie: (Delighted.) "It is? C'mon, you're just trying to be nice."

Manfred: "No, really. It's huge!"

Like the first "Ice Age," this movie shells out for top-notch talent in the voice department. Really, though, the voices don't matter that much. Neither does the science-free plot: The glaciers are melting in a matter of mere days, and a bunch of peaceable animals have to dodge buzzards, alligators, rocks, falling ice dams and other hindrances to make it to a kind of vague Noah's Ark-type of boat that will ensure their survival.

The movie is all a big excuse for the animators to do their thing. And I'm not complaining.

A squirrel in pursuit of a gleaming, elusive acorn sets the stage for endless variations on tomfoolery. Once, stuck under the ice, he cuts the ice in desperation into a perfect circle, raises it like a manhole cover, and then finds himself rolling around in the middle of it like a wheel. Another time, he hurtles after the acorn down an endless icy slalom. At the end of the movie, to the heart-rending, romantic strains from Khatchaturian's "Spartacus," he sees the acorn appear, golden and in fantastic perspective, in the sky like a god.

The mammoths are a kick, padding along on their big round feet with their big furry bodies swaying. The alligators, or whatever they are, arch through the water like primitive monsters.

"Bend the tree back and shoot me out of it," a clownish little possum begs the mammoth. "Further, further," he entreats as the big animal reluctantly pulls the branches back.

The movie has a cheerful disregard for whatever it's supposed to be. It even turns for a spell into a musical revue, as buzzards in Busby Berkeley formation burst into an extended, witty take on "Food, Glorious Food" from "Oliver!" ("Food, glorious food -- flesh picked from the dead ones," is one line that sticks in my memory.)

Just enjoy the spectacle. Don't worry about the details.

You know those glaciers will melt soon enough.


REVIEW: 3 stars (Out of four)

STARRING: Voices of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Queen Latifah, Denis Leary and Josh Peck

DIRECTOR: Carlos Saldhana

RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes

RATING: PG for mild language and innuendo.

THE LOWDOWN: Wisecracking animal buddies strive to survive as the ancient Ice Age ends.


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