This post was originally published online back on March 9th of 2014.
I love the movie Ice Age. I have since it came out. I think I watched it about 200 times with my daughter when she was young, and I have since watched it a few MORE times with my sons as they are getting bigger. It's a Blue Sky Studios picture, not Dreamworks as many folks seem to get it confused. Blue Sky studios has also done movies like Rio, Epic, and Robots... so they've had a pretty mixed bag. But Ice Age is definitely the cream of the crop.
The first Ice Age movie was simply structured, had a small cast of characters, and was focused on a clear objective. The story was set somewhere around or in the Ice Age, so the color palettes are fairly muted but not drab, and the character designs are sort of angular-yet-organic and lumpy-yet-endearing. And because of all of this, the story had lots of room for themes and subtext, and space for the comedians playing the lead roles to riff and have fun with each other. Portions of the movie feel improvised, and there's a nice natural rhythm to most scenes that doesn't feel too rushed or too desperate to move on to the next big thing.
|This guy doesn't count because he's frozen solid.|
There is a real story with actual character development for all of the three lead characters. We have Manny the mammoth, who has gruff, humorless and despondent after losing his herd tragically, who by film's end is able to let others in emotionally, and form bonds with others in a way he thought he was no incapable of. Sid the sloth, who is a bumbling, needy, useless, clingy imbecile at the beginning of the film finally finds motivation and purpose, and in doing so develops a little bit of backbone and self-respect, and to a lesser degree the respect of his peers. And finally we have Diego the sabretooth tiger, who has never known respect or friendship or honor in any form who then bonds with animals he would have looked down on as "lesser" before his experiences in the film.
What we have is "Three Men and a Baby" starring Tallahassee from "Zombieland", Derek Vineyard from "American History X", and... Pestario Vargas from "The Pest" (I guess...?) all on a "Road-Trip" where they become dude-bros forever. It's actually way better than that... but this is what we're going with. Through the film we have fun. Not ridiculous, over-the-top, non-stop gimmicks, but legit fun. From the campfire scenes where the characters nettle each other, to the travel montage set to the rousing, made-a-classic-by-this-movie song "On My Way" by Rusted Root, to the scenes of both tragedy and intense action peppered throughout... we have a really well balanced and fun-loving film.
And then we have this guy. Scrat. Quite possibly one of the most brilliant pieces of modern animation this side of Tex Avery or Chuck Jones. He is a perfect homage to the classic Merry Melodies and Looney Tunes shorts where you have one hapless protagonist with one very clear and desperate goal... and an entire world fraught with danger and misfortune working against him. The Scrat sequences woven in throughout the film are nothing short of pure genius.
But now...? Now we have SEQUELS. And the sequels are NOTHING compared to the original.
In the second movie we are introduced to Manny's new love interest, Ellie, and her uninteresting otter-or-possum-or-whatever-they-are twin adoptive brothers. Hungry, freshly-thawed aquatic dinosaurs show up in this one, and the whole movie looks like a technicolor acid trip. This movie doesn't feel like it could possibly have taken place in the same world as the first film. Plus the additional characters just make the movie feel hyper and cluttered. I don't even really remember the goal or objective for the group in this one. Build a boat to escape a flood maybe?
When I found out Simon Pegg would be in the third film my hopes went up... but unfortunately this movie was just one giant wow-scene after another. The dinosaurs, the environments in the ridiculous subterranean tropical world... it all suffered from ADHD and there were no real moments to breathe and let the characters be characters. Oh, and we meet Manny's kid in this one. Peaches. Plus cute T-Rex babies. Ugh.
Still haven't actually watched this one. Glacier pirates... even MORE characters... I mean come on already. And don't even get me STARTED on the Ice Age Christmas special!!!
Since the first movie became a franchise, the creators have done everything in their power to excise what made it such a great film. The ONLY element in the first three movies that feels consistently great are the Scrat sequences. They introduce a female antagonist/potential love-interest in the third film, "Scratte", that was simply BRILLIANT... but let's be honest, the Scrat shorts and sequences are a bit of a gimme.
The first Ice Age film felt like an introspective indie-flick, free of expectations and formula (for the most part... I mean it's a kid's film so... formula is sort of the standard shorthand... but still) it had real tragic moments that felt free of melodrama and actually asked the viewers to confront some hard truths. It had genuinely menacing villains that made the movie feel like there was something at stake. It didn't pander to the business-executive's idea of a vat-grown child. The fun scenes were fun and the emotional scenes were emotional and the tense action scenes were... well... tense and full of action. The first movie is accurately described as a "darker" film... and it's funny how they've spent the rest of the franchise back-pedalling from that darkness as much as they can. But darkness mixed with sweetness mixed with substance can give you chocolate fudge, where sweetness and brightness and hyperactivity just tends to make rainbow-crunch funfetti with nothing to sprinkle it on.
|Some of you will choose the funfetti. I don't care.|
There is only one RIGHT answer.
I choose FUDGE!!! The movie holds a lot of good memories for me as a dad, but it genuinely holds up as a quality film as well. This isn't me looking back with rose-colored glasses, this is a true animated classic in my estimation. That's really all I have to say about it.... except to shake my head sadly at what has become of the sequels. But of course, this wouldn't be one of my blog posts if I didn't tie toys or other merchandising in somehow, right? So here are some Ice age toys I've managed to accumulate:
First up, a couple of random miscellaneous pieces. The Dodos were a hilarious part of the first film, and this Burger King premium was actually a part of a set that could hook together with other sets and trigger off a series of events. The Scrat roller is a Kellog's Cereal premium promoting Ice Age 2.
These three came from an Ice Age 2 DVD board game set. The scale is slightly off between the three characters, but I don't really mind. As I've mentioned in the past, I love mini-figures, (as long as they're well done) and these are right up my alley.
I think style-wise these are my absolute favorites in my collection right now, to the point where I have a Sid the Sloth on his way here as I write these words. I like stacking these guys up totem-pole style and once Sid gets here I'll probably poster-putty them all together. I love the urban-vinyl vibe to these, as they are obviously NOT urban vinyl toys, but are very similar to in style to lines like Dunnies or Munnies.
Finally, I have these four toys that my daughter and I used to play Ice Age when she was a little girl. The mammoth and tiger are obviously not licensed items, but to me they will always be Manny and Diego. The other two figures are actually pieces to other toys and were not designed to stand on their own feet. Scrat there was actually inside of a squishy water ball toy that popped... and I just cannot remember what Sid used to be inside of. A snowball or something maybe? I think he was supposed to roll at one point. ANYWAY, these toys are some of the most special to me because I remember many a tub-time with my daughter playing Ice Age in the bubbles.
So that's it kids, that's all I got. Keep your peepers peeled here for more rants, ramblings, and random ravings!