'Ice Age' Aims to Be Next Animated Event

Talk about a mammoth opening: Ice Age comes to theaters this week featuring some of Hollywood's hottest talent.

Ray Romano, John Leguizamo and Denis Leary star as a mammoth, a sloth and a saber-toothed tiger who team up to save an infant human. You've heard of Three Men and a Baby. "It's like three mammals and a baby," says Leguizamo.

The movie also features the voices of Jane Krakowski of Ally McBeal and Diedrich Bader of The Drew Carey Show as well as Jack Black and Cedric the Entertainer.

There was a time in the not-so-distant past when movie and TV stars didn't really do animated movies. Those days are long gone, especially with the thunderous success of Shrek and Monsters Inc..

‘You’re Gonna Do It, Dad’

Romano says taking the role of Manny the Wooly Mammoth was a no-brainer. " I knew that this guy [director Chris Wedge] was going to have some quality stuff and then I have the four kids who are my real agents, and they said, 'You're gonna do it, Dad.'"

Losing yourself in a cartoon fantasy is just part of being a kid, and Romano remembers those days fondly. But Romano says it has to be a little strange for his little ones — who had to get used to him as a TV dad.

"I can't even imagine what they're going through," he says. "I remember the first time I showed them a videotape of the [Everybody Loves Raymond] and there was a scene where I had to kiss the actress. They look at me and go 'That's not mommy.' And I said, 'I know.'"

Animation Is Not Child’s Play

The story, set 20,000 years ago, centers on Romano's morose mammoth Manny, a loner with a sad personal history, who heads north into the thick of the Ice Age while other creatures wander south.

Sid, an abandoned sloth, adopts Manny as his protector and convinces him to return a lost child to its family.

Diego (Leary), a saber-toothed tiger, pretends to help Sid and Manfred. But his real aim is to deliver them to his ravenous tiger family (Goran Visnjic and Jack Black).

It might seem easy for a star to lend a voice to an animated feature. No makeup. No stunts. No pre-dawn, on-location shoots. But cartoons only look like child's play.

"It's a lot of work spread over a long time, a number of years going into various sections," Leary says. "This character is particularly hard because my voice was very low registered so pretty much every time that I went in to work for three hours, I'd lose my voice daily for three hours. Beyond that it was easy."