Should I Watch..? 'Ice Age'
What's the big deal?
Ice Age is a CG-animated family comedy film released in 2002 and is based on a story by Michael J.Wilson. The first film produced by Blue Sky Studios, it concerns the efforts of a woolly mammoth, a sloth and a sabre-toothed tiger to return an infant human to his tribe. The film stars Ray Romano, Denis Leary and John Leguizamo and it was co-directed by Chris Wedge and Carlos Saldanha. The film was a hit with audiences all over the world where it made more than $383 million as well as spawning a franchise of both short and feature-length films, video games, a live show and numerous amounts of merchandise. Critics also lauded the film although it has been noted that as the series has gone on, the film has been increasingly less welcome (although their respective returns are still impressive). Today, Ice Age has become of the most financially successful media franchises ever with an estimated global value of $6 billion - more than Game Of Thrones, Shrek and even The Fast And The Furious series.
What's it about?
Set just before an encroaching ice age, the film introduces us to Sid who is a clumsy but well-meaning ground sloth left behind by his family who have migrated away. Deciding to set out on his way by himself, he quickly upsets a couple of angry Brontops (prehistoric rhino). Sid accidentally runs into Manny, an enormous and grumpy woolly mammoth who scares the Brontops away and who regards Sid as an annoyance as he continues his own migration towards the snow. Eventually, they stumble across a human baby abandoned by his dying mother and they decide to return the child to the infant's camp at the top of a nearby cliff.
However, they are not there as they themselves have moved on. Manny and Sid are told this by Diego, a sabre-toothed tiger whose pack attacked the human's camp the night before. Despite their reservations, Manny and Sid allow Diego to tag along as he helps them to track the humans. But Diego has an ulterior motive of his own as the pack's leader, Soto, wants the child brought to him alive as revenge for the human's attacks. Will Diego succeed or will he have a change of heart thanks to his new companions?
Manfred "Manny", a woolly mammoth
Sid, a ground sloth
Diego, a sabre-toothed tiger
Scrat, a sabre-toothed squirrel
Soto, a sabre-toothed tiger
Zeke, a sabre-toothed tiger
Chris Wedge (co-director Carlos Saldanha)
Michael Berg, Michael J. Wilson & Peter Ackerman*
Release Date (UK)
22nd March, 2002
Animation, Adventure, Comedy, Family
Academy Award Nominations
Best Animated Feature
What's to like?
I will hold my hands and confess that I may be slightly too old for Ice Age which is evidently made for more younger viewers. Made when Pixar were the acknowledged masters of CG animation (this is only the eighth such feature film in history), this film found itself within a fairly sparse but rapidly expanding market when it was first released. It was key, therefore, that the film was a success and broadly speaking, that's exactly what it is. The voice work is spot on - Romano's cynical New York accent perfectly fits the role of Manny while Leary give Diego enough of an edge to make him sound villainous. But I actually enjoyed Leguizamo's frenetic delivery as Sid who never seems to stop talking despite playing a sloth. He also gets his fair share of slapstick prat-falls together with Scrat, a character whose obsession with acorns is a running gag throughout the movie.
Something I don't often mention when I discuss animation films is their soundtrack which is often over-looked but I loved the orchestration by David Newman which seems to hark back to the glory days of traditional animation and cartoons before the main feature. The music is clear and expressive, matching the action on screen with precision timing. The film's art-work isn't hyper-realistic but it doesn't need to be - after all, the film displays a near-total misunderstanding of history but it matters not one bit. This is a film that young kids will love for just being a fun watch - it's bright, noisy and full of funny moments like the various misadventures of Scrat and the Dodo fight sequence.
- The drawings shown during the end credits were all done by children of the animators, as was the drawing Sid makes of himself. Story artist Dan Shefelman wanted the drawing to look like a 3 year old had done it but couldn't get it right. So he simply got his own 3 year old son Will to do it.
- The humans shown in the film are not Homo Sapien but Neanderthals who never utter a word throughout the film.
- The animators consulted experts at the American Museum Of Natural History in New York whose only stipulation was that the film featured absolutely no dinosaurs which would have been long extinct by the time the film is set. However, one pops up frozen in ice while dinosaurs became the prime antagonists for the third film Dawn Of The Dinosaurs in 2009.
- Among those considered for a role were James Earl Jones, Christopher Walken, Ving Rhames, Antonio Banderas, Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, George Clooney, Kevin Spacey, Samuel L Jackson, Alan Rickman and Bruce Willis.
What's not to like?
It's easy to look at the film now and criticise the animation but at the time, this would have sufficed for most viewers. But watching today for the first time (I know, sue me!), the visuals have not aged well at all and in places, I thought the film looked ugly. The worst part was the opening scene with various creatures embarking on a migration but I could only identify a few of them. You could blame artistic licence and I wouldn't blame you - this isn't a documentary, after all. But it just made the film feel a little off, almost abstract in its appearance and didn't really float my boat. Personally, I thought Monster Inc. (released the year before) looked miles better.
The story felt a little weak and predictable while the short running time might have left me feeling short-changed if I watched this at the cinema. But again, these niggles aren't going to matter to kids and especially younger children under the age of say 10. The film is funny in places, full of excitement and fun and will probably distract kids on a rainy day during the summer holidays. My biggest issue is that Pixar infuse their films with enough humour to entertain adults as well as the kids, making films like Monsters Inc. and Toy Story films the whole family can enjoy. Was there anything here for adults to enjoy? Not really.
Should I watch it?
Ice Age is a film that might defy your expectations but it is a great example of a film sticking to its brief and its target audience - it's perfectly enjoyable for young viewers who will love the mix of adventure, danger, comedy and Scrat who is possibly the best thing about the film. But it doesn't look as good as it could and it also lacks the overall appeal that Pixar films possess in spades.
Great For: the under 10s, adults looking for a quick distraction for their children, the accountants at 20th Century Fox
Not So Great For: history teachers, anthropologists, challenging Pixar's dominance of the CG market
What else should I watch?
I know, I know! Everyone goes on about Pixar and their supposed inherent greatness, as though old man Disney himself possessed the animators and sprinkled fairy dust over their computers. But the fact of the matter is that (unfortunately for their detractors) they do have the best films in the CG market in their locker, even if they are falling into the trap of producing more sequels than original ideas these days. From the day Toy Story changed the animation game completely in 1995, Pixar have consistently produced some classics like superhero tribute The Incredibles, progressive sci-fi epic WALL-E and even Inside Out, an experimental look inside the brain of a young girl and the five characters in control of her actions. Such intelligent and imaginative films look even more impressive against a familiar slew of talking animals populating other films.
Having said that, other studios have worked hard to narrow the gap and there is plenty to enjoy out there if you know where to look. Despicable Me might have been overshadowed by the enormous popularity of those damned Minions - who would go on to have their own film before long - but it's an excellent animation poking fun at super-villains trying to out-do each other. Frozen was Disney's attempt to muscle in for themselves on the CG market and it became a global phenomenon and with good reason. And the recent Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse demonstrated that Marvel and DC haven't quite sapped the market for superhero films with its combination of striking visuals, fan-pleasing narrative and heart.
© 2019 Benjamin Cox