Fox has released an updated DVD of Ice Age: The Meltdown that includes a bonus disc with a preview of Horton Hears a Who, and it gives DVD Talk the perfect opportunity to discuss the final version of the home video release. Thomas Spurlin has already written a great review of The Meltdown based on a Fox preview disc, but my review was based on a consumer copy, so I can finally bring you the details on the quality of the image and such.
In the original Ice Age (2002), a ragtag group of prehistoric animals have to save a human baby from a group of saber-toothed tigers. Manny (Ray Romano), a wooly mammoth, leads the silly sloth, Sid (John Leguizamo, reprising his best role ever), and the duplicitous saber-toothed tiger, Diego (Dennis Leary), as they attempt to return the lost child to a tribe of humans. In the end, Diego does the right thing and saves the day for the good guys, and our heroes succeed and have bonded as a makeshift herd of misfits. Parallel action follows a rodent named Scrat (Chris Wedge) as he attempts to obtain a single acorn amidst all sorts of crazy happenings. Scrat's adventures essentially frame the movie.
In The Meltdown, the group is all back. Manny, Sid, and Diego realize that they and all of the other animals around them are in danger of drowning in a great flood because the ice all around their home is melting. Rumors of a huge boat, a sort of Noah's Ark, far away lead the whole group to begin a long journey. Along the way, they meet another wooly mammoth, Ellie (Queen Latifah), who believes herself to be a possum. She and her two brothers (Sean William Scott and Josh Peck), who are actually possums, join the group on their incredible journey. An identity crisis ensues for Ellie, along with the token, romantic debacles with Manny. Excitement is added by the fact that the melting has thawed out some scary, reptilian predators that want to snack on our heroes.
The side story for The Meltdown follows Scrat again. His struggle for the acorn is a deeply philosophical metaphor for the futility of man's efforts to overcome the chaos of the world around him, to achieve the insignificant in the face of futility.
Computer-generated movies have become a showcase for animation and detail, seeming less about the story and more about showing off the visuals. Over the last few years they have begun to feel a little like Family Guy episodes, emphasizing gags that have very little to do with the plot. The Meltdown epitomizes this, but it does so effectively, due to the wonderful slapstick and the animation of the characters. It works for large portions on the level of a silent film, and the Scrat sections in particular do so.
Visually, the movie looks great, but it doesn't outshine the other C.G. offerings coming out every month. The huge blocks of ice that dominate the landscape for the first third of the movie don't exactly provide the opportunity for great detail, but wet fur does, and you'll see a lot of that later. As you would expect, you can see every strand of fur animated individually on the characters, and every blade of grass has its own existence. The textures look great, too, and the meltdown is another film in the cannon of great-looking, computer-generated cartoons.
The Meltdown is in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and it is enhanced to fit widescreen TV's perfectly, with just the very slightest amount of letterboxing visible at the top and bottom of the screen. You probably wouldn't even notice it if I hadn't just told you. Computer-generated films look great upconverted, with rich colors and a sharp image.
I saw some ghosting at one point around an isolated tree branch, and there is some posterization in the big areas of color during the misty night scenes. With the large areas of flat color in this film, this doesn't surprise me. So, The Meltdown doesn't get quite a perfect score for visuals.
The audio tracks consist of standard English 5.1-surround, French 2.0, and Spanish 2.0. The Meltdown has excellent sound design and effects. The score by John Powell is top rate. The bass on the surround track is put to excellent use for the footsteps of the huge animals (or the small ones, as the perspective changes with the character we are following) and for the cataclysmic events of the meltdown.
The Horton Hears a Who disc contains a three-minute inside look at the movie based on Dr. Seuss' book. The film was released theatrically on March 14, 2008. The inside look contains a big chunk of the film, and should entice a lot of fans to see it. The disc also contains three short featurettes, all about Scrat, and they are very welcome. One extra featurette covers The Meltdown's lead modeler.
On the main disc, there are a ton of special features. There is a Director's Commentary with director Carlos Saldanha (Ice Age), who talks about the reasoning behind the creative process of the film. He does a good job walking you through the film, essentially touching on everything you see. Any fan of the Ice Age films will enjoy it.
There is also a Crew commentary with about ten of the filmmakers, talking a lot about the technical side of making the movie. It's pretty fun, too, but those of you into computer art are the only ones guaranteed to care.
"No Time For Nuts" is a short film by some of these guys, starring Scrat. It continues his adventures getting his acorn, and involves his interactions with a time machine. This is one of the funniest things on the disc.
There are also about a dozen other short little features. Some let you experiment with the filmmaking process by trying out different sound editing options, and others are just short, extra animation blips or behind the scenes clips.
Fox really did squeeze a mammoth amount of special features on here.
This is a fabulous DVD. While a few off color jokes and language might cause parents of very young children to skip it, I'll give it a strong "Recommended" for the family or just anyone who wants to have a good time. However, with all of the computer-generated kids movies as competition these days, The Meltdown won't blow you away.