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The film was met with mostly positive reviews and was a box office success, starting a series with three sequels, Ice Age: The Meltdown, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, and Ice Age: Continental Drift.
The film begins with a saber-toothed squirrel (known as Scrat) who is trying to find somewhere to store his prized acorn. Eventually, as he tries to stomp it into the ground, he causes a large crack in the ground that extends for miles and miles and sets off a large avalanche. He barely escapes, but finds himself stepped on by a herd of prehistoric animals. The animals are trying to avoid the ice age by migrating south, except for Manfred, an agitated mammoth who is heading north. Sid, a clumsy Megalonyx sloth left behind by his family, decides to go on by himself and angers Carl and Frank, two Brontops by ruining their salad and is attacked. Sid is soon saved by Manfred, who fights them off. Not wanting to be alone and unprotected, Sid follows Manfred.
Meanwhile, Soto, the leader of a Smilodon pride wants revenge on a group of humans by eating the chief's baby son, Roshan, alive. Soto leads a raid on the human camp, during which Roshan's mother is separated from the rest and jumps down a waterfall when cornered by Soto's lieutenant, Diego. For his failure, Diego is sent to find and retrieve the baby. Sid and Manfred spot Roshan and his mother near the lake, having survived her plunge. The mother only has enough strength to trust her baby to Manfred before she disappears. After much persuasion by Sid, they decide to return Roshan but when they reach the human settlement, they find it deserted. They meet up with Diego, who convinces the pair to let him help by tracking the humans. The four travel on, with Diego secretly leading them to his pack for an ambush.
While having small adventures on their way, they reach a cave with several drawings, drawn by humans where Sid and Diego learn about Manfred's past and his previous interactions with the humans, in which his wife and son were killed, leaving Manfred a cynical loner. Later Manfred, Sid, Diego and Roshan were almost to Half-Peak, but encounter a river of lava. Manfred and Sid, along with Roshan, make it safely but Diego struggles, about to fall into the lava. Manfred rescues him narrowly missing a fall into the lava himself. The herd takes a break for the night and Roshan takes his first walking steps to Diego.
The next day the herd approach the ambush, causing Diego to confess to Manfred and Sid about the ambush, and tells them to trust him. The herd battles Soto's pack and a short fight ensues. As Soto closes in for the kill on Manfred, Diego leaps and stops Soto, who wounds Diego in the process. Manfred knocks Soto into a rock wall, causing several sharp icicles to fall on Soto, killing him. Manfred and Sid leave Diego on his insistence and take Roshan back to his tribe. So Manfred and Sid manage to return Roshan to his father, and Diego rejoins them. The group begins to head off to warmer climates.
20,000 years later Scrat is frozen in an ice cube that washes up on the shore of a tropical island. The sun slowly melts the cube, bringing Scrat back to life but the acorn, which is just out of his reach, ends up being washed away by the tide. Scrat then explodes out of the ice cube in anger and hits his head repetitively on a tree, which drops a coconut. Believing it to be a giant acorn, Scrat's anger immediately turns to glee at this new find. He tries to pack it into the ground as he did previously with his other acorns, but in the process causes a large crack in the ground that makes its way up the side of a volcano and causes it to erupt.