March 29, 2002

Ice Age

Ice Age is a Disney movie for the 21st century- even if it’s not a Disney movie. Ice Age takes the conventions, story, and characters from the Disney playbook and gives them a tweak, thanks to Blue Sky, a computer animation studio (via Fox animation).

While the new generation of animated films like Shrek and Monsters, Inc. differ from old-school Disney movies in their form (computer animation) and content (irony, pop culture), Ice Age feels like a Disney movie without looking like one.

iceageThe three lead voices are all comedians who have gone Hollywood. Ray Romano, comedy king of suburban television (now that Home Improvement is off the air), plays Manfred the mammoth as a grumpy, overburdened soccer dad after a long trip in the minivan with too many bratty kids. John Leguizamo (Moulin Rouge!), the spastic, twitchy, eccentric, diminutive NY comic, plays the chatterbox sloth Sid with a heart of gold and a bad accent- the character’s teeth clearly inhibit some vocal sounds. Denis Leary, the chain smoking, anti-PC, counter-establishment comic, plays the carnivorous saber-tooth tiger Diego, with a low-octave rumble only unfiltered Luckies can produce.

The film is an odd-couple road trip, as this threesome are forced together to return a lost infant to its family. They trek across an almost monchrome snowscape (nicely rendered by Blue Sky- the snowflakes look as good as the Himalayas sequence in Monsters, Inc.), and take a roller-coaster slide through a glacier, reminiscent of Aladdin's magic carpet ride and Indiana Jones's escape from the Temple of Doom. Just imagine a wooly mammoth sliding down an ice chute, and you can understand why I almost choked to death on my popcorn.

The story doesn't break any new ground. The conflict is familiar, and the characters develop in safe and comfortable ways. We know everyone has a backstory, and while the kids may not see them coming, the adults will be able to safely predict the turns of the plot.

Most computer generated films deal with bugs or toys, with organic characters as supporting roles only. In contrast, Ice Age’s principal characters are all covered in fur. The film feels like it was created with watercolors and charcoal rather than plastic. Blue Sky has taken the step PDI-DreamWorks and Pixar haven’t taken yet- challenging the medium. Creating plastics, bugs, and monsters are easy in CGI- the surfaces are easy to create, when compared to fur and skin.

Ice Age is a pleasant, amusing movie for parents and kids to enjoy. Computer-animated films will not truly compete with ink-and cel animation until they successfully trancend the limitations of the medium. Ice Age pushes those limitations in its form, if not its content.