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'Ice Age: The Meltdown'

"If your species will survive, clap your hands," sings Sid the sloth, teasing his lone wooly mammoth chum Manny.

This mix of childlike silliness and grim (albeit veiled) foreboding gives "Ice Age: The Meltdown" a built-in depth that parents will appreciate. As a sequel to the 2002 surprise hit, the film delivers solid entertainment with kooky characters, pleasing animation, energetic voice work and an intriguing premise. Best of all, Scrat is back.

Scrat, a prehistoric Sisyphus, is the squirrel/rat creature initially conceived as a one-off in the original "Ice Age." His disastrous attempts to obtain an acorn won him a follow-up short and a return gig to the sequel. His scenes, which have no dialogue and are apart from the main story, are refreshing highlights to the film and help to break up the film's episodic nature.

The trio of Pleistocene pals from the last film -- Manny (Ray Romano), Sid (John Leguizamo) and Diego the sabertooth tiger (Denis Leary) -- are faced with global warming, which means their glacial habitat will melt and cause widespread flooding. With a wink at the Noah's ark story, all the creatures head towards a natural "boat" that will bring them to safety.

Each of the furry protagonists also have their own personal journeys that range from Diego's inablity to swim to Sid's yearning for respect and Manny's loneliness. You see, Manny not only lost his family long ago, but he also fears he's the last of his kind. He's overjoyed to meet fellow mammoth Ellie (Queen Latifah) who is laboring under the misconception that she's a possum.

Kids will love the incongruity of seeing this nine-ton pachyderm cower from birds of prey and hang upside-down from tree branches. Beyond the visual humor is a rather sweet story about her adoption and her loyalty to her possum brothers Crash and Eddie (Seann William Scott, Josh Peck). The filmmakers eased these characters in naturally without disturbing the Manny-Diego-Sid dynamic and will no doubt become new favorites, especially the possums, who are horribly mischievous.

Although there are a few slow points to the film, there's plenty of humor and a couple moments of inspired lunacy that keep the action moving. One such scene is Sid's sudden popularity with a tribe of mini-sloths that worship him as a fire god. Another is a twisted little Busby Berkeley number in which vultures go the "Oliver!" route and sing "Food, Glorious, Food" referring to the animal prey heading toward the boat.

We commend the filmmakers for not sugar coating the realities the creatures face in what is essentially a disaster flick. Although the film was conceived before last year, there are definitely echoes of Hurricane Katrina especially when a grandpa molehog refuses to leave his home even though his life depends on evacuating. Survival is the end goal here, whether it's escaping the flood, repopulating the species or avoiding predators. These issues are handled delicately and humorously, but parents may expect to have a few enlightening discussions with the little ones afterward.

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