Dir: Carlos Saldanha. US.2006. 91 mins.

20th Century Foxlooks set to enjoy an early year worldwide smash with Ice Age 2: TheMeltdown (called just Ice Age:The Meltdown in North America), alikeable sequel to the spring 2002 original which was one of the firstnon-Pixar CGI films to make a mint - $373m to be precise, $197m of that frominternational territories. The DVD subsequently sold over 25 million unitsworldwide.

With awareness of thecharacters from the first film so high among families around the world, thesequel is sure to be a slamdunk at the box office over the upcoming schoolEaster holidays. Ice Age 2 is oneof the few CG-animated films this year - and there are some 20 majorstudio releases - which has recognizable characters, and it comes, likeits predecessor, before the summer CG stampede kicks in (The Wild in April, Over The Hedge in May, Cars in June, Monster Houseand Barnyard in July, The AntBully in August).

The film opens day-and-datewith the US on March 31 in numerous territories, and will be in theatreseverywhere by the end of April.

Again produced by ChrisWedge's Blue Sky Studios, it's a diverting enough entertainment, deliveringmany easy laughs and visual pleasures. The problem is, and allcute-animal-themed animated movies are facing the same dilemma, that storyideas are running dangerously thin. In The Meltdown, it's another road trip with some strained subplotsthrown in - a mammoth who thinks she's a possum, a tribe of sloths whothink Sid is their Fire God. Ingenuity aplenty is devoted to the visual humourand digital spectacle of the film, but the narrative itself feels tired.

Even wide-eyed kids mightstart feeling the fatigue by year-end as deer/grizzly bear buddy movie OpenSeason and tap-dancing-penguincomedy Happy Feet reach themarket.

In Ice Age 2, the ice age is coming to an end and our heroes- sturdy woolly mammoth Manny (voiced by Romano), over-enthusiastic slothSid (Leguizamo) and sabre-toothed tiger Diego (Leary) - are enjoying alife of leisure in a sun-drenched valley with a horde of other animals.

But global warming isbringing imminent catastrophe. Manny, Sid and Diego discover, helped by someominous warnings from con artist Fast Tony (Leno) and a predatory vulture(Arnett), that a huge glacial dam holding off oceans of water is about to meltand engulf the valley with water. The only chance of survival for the animalsis to get to the other end of the valley where, they are told, there is a boatwhich can carry them all to safety.

And so they begin their trekthrough miles of melting ice and green landscapes. Manny is convinced that heis the last mammoth on earth until he comes across Ellie, the only femalemammoth left in the world (distinctively voiced by Queen Latifah) who thinksshe is a possum and the sister of two tiny possums Crash and Eddie (Scott andPeck respectively).

Before long, of course, sherealizes that she is a mammoth, but she rebuffs Manny's romantic advances.Diego meanwhile is terrified by the fact that in the increasingly watery world,he can't swim. And Sid is kidnapped one night by a tribe of mini-sloths who areconvinced that he can avert the impending flood.

Interspersed with thetravels are a series of vignettes featuring the rat-cum-squirrel Scrat and hisvain attempts to capture an acorn. From the Mission: Impossible 2 send-up in the prologue to the final sequence in anacorn-filled heaven, Scrat offers the film's most delightful moments full ofvisual inventiveness and Tom And Jerry-style frustration.

Contemporary culturalreferences are peppered incongruously through the film including avulture-chorus of "Food, Glorious Food" from Oliver! and a possum version of R Kelly's "I Believe I CanFly." There's a slight whiff of desperation to please when a film set inprehistoric times feels the need to resort to cheap pop gimmicks to keepafloat.

Prod cos
Blue Sky Studios, 20th Century Fox

Worldwide dist
20th Century Fox

Exec prods
Christopher Meledandri, Chris Wedge

Lori Forte

Peter Gaulke & Gerry Swallow and Jim Hecht, from a story by Gaulke &Swallow

John Powell

Voice cast
Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, Queen Latifah, Seann William Scott,Jay Leno, Will Arnett, Josh Peck