Hey, Lord Of The Flame, Your Tail’s On Fire – Ice Age

31 08 2016

Ice Age (Blue Sky Studios - 2002)

By the early 2000’s, one form of format/genre was beginning to dominate the movie scene more than most. It had reared it’s head in 1995 with the release of Toy Story, and by 2002 several of the most talked about films of the time were in the same format. I am of course talking about CGI animated movies and in less than a decade; there were already several well-known and near iconic films released with such titles as Toy Story, Toy Story 2, A Bug’s Life, Shrek and Monsters Inc. Most of the films produced in this format were done by two main studios: Pixar and DreamWorks Animation, with both of them together holding a near monopoly on CGI Animated Cinema. Then another studio came along; a studio who had been in existence nearly as long as Pixar, but who were only just about to release their first big screen film; little did anyone know that such a film would become such a hit.

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Released in 2002 by Blue Sky Studios and directed by Chris Wedge, Ice Age is an animated comedy film about a group of animals going on a journey during the Ice Age. This film would be the first instalment in the commercially successful Ice Age film series and would be followed by 4 sequels making it the first animated film series to have 5 entries. While the subsequent films have sort of begun to lose their charm, the first film in the series remains to be one of the best animated films of its kind, and is a personal favourite of mine.

Scrat (Chris Wedge), a squirrel with some really pointy teeth tries hard to find a place to store his acorn, ultimately and constantly however his success is limited and goes on to cause more problems than solutions. Eventually he gets stomped on by a large migrating herd of prehistoric animals going south to avoid the oncoming Ice Age. A Ground Sloth knows as Sid (John Leguizamo) is left behind by his family, and while trying to regroup with them he angers Carl (Cedric the Entertainer) and Frank (Stephen Root); a couple of Brontops/Megacerops (Rhino). Sid is rescued by grumpy Mammoth Manfred/’Manny’ (Ray Romano), and not wanting to be pummelled by Carl, Frank, or more likely both; Sid joins Manny, which Manny finds really irritating as he prefers to be alone. Meanwhile a group of Smilodon, lead by Soto (Groan Visnjic) are planning revenge on a group of humans by eating the chief’s baby son alive. During the attack, the baby’s mother rescues the boy, and jumps down a waterfall. Soto sends his lieutenant Diego (Denis Leary) to get the baby back. Having survived the plunge, Manny and Sid discover the mother, who passes the baby up to them before disappearing. While Manny does not want to help, he agrees to as he hopes Sid will leave him alone after that. When trying to return the baby to the camp, the two run into Diego, who is desperately trying to convince them he is good. Upon reaching the human camp; they discover the humans had left, and Diego says he can help the two reach the Humans in time before they are gone for good.

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The group leave for the humans, and on the way run into several hurdles in looking after a baby including feeding it and changing it, running into a pack of melon obsessed Dodo’s. Diego runs into members of his pack, and tells them that he will be bringing a Mammoth along with the baby to their lair. As the adventure continues Scrat is still looking for a place to hide his acorn, while the trio discover all sides to the Ice Age world, with Sid playing tricks on Manny, Diego still trying to get the baby and Manny trying to be a responsible guardian to the baby. Eventually the group run into a cave with human paintings inside, which tell of the frightful story of what happened to Manny that made him such a loner.

Within sight of their destination, the group walk over a patch of lava, with Manny saving Diego’s life. With Diego filled with gratitude and seeing Manny for who he really is, he informs them of his original plan to have the group eaten by the pack. With Diego’s help, the group are able to defeat the pack, but with Diego severely injured. Manny and Sid continue on to the Glacier Pass, and just manage to catch up with the boy’s father. Manny gives the boy back to his dad in a tear felt moment for all. Manny and Sid watch as the humans leave, with Manny having received a gift of compassion from the boy’s father. The two then turn around to see Diego injured but alive. They then leave to find a warmer climate. Thousands of years later, Scrat; frozen in an ice-cube washes ashore but is helpless as his Acorn is washed away. He does however find a Coconut to eat which brings him joy, until he accidently causes a Volcanic Eruption with it.

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Ice Age is actually a very surprising deep film I find. It’s amazing I think how a film like this can still bring a tear to my eye, even more so now than when I first saw it. There are things I am even beginning to discover more now than I did when I first saw it at about the age of 12. It’s a film with a lot of comedic moments; moments which carry references to what we might consider to be a normal modern life and the things carved into it, plus a lot of mentions to popular culture. These moments of comedy I find to be pretty simple, but in that there is an instant laugh. There is no need for thinking or jokes to get, because it’s all visual and even at times there may be something that children may not get, but ones that adults will making this film’s comedy one all the family can enjoy. Add to this some more clever puns and ideas in relation to such ideas like Extinction and Evolution provided by the film’s strong menagerie of prehistoric animals and it’s a real laugh a minute film. But it’s not just a comedy film, more in fact I find that it’s a film with a lot of heart and a bucket full of emotion.

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The film shows it’s comedy through its situations, but it tells it’s stories through its characters, and here we do have an odd bunch that has both comedy, but also peril. The film’s minor cast in part comes in several characters like Soto’s pack of misfits with characters like the near rabid Zeke (Jack Black), to the other two henchmen. Then this leads us on to characters like Carl and Frank who provide a way of Sid and Manny coming together, but in turn creates two semi-minor antagonists which are just so funny to watch and hear talk, especially with the spoken lines of “Carl?” and “Easy Frank”. This of course leads us on nicely to the film’s semi narrator but also comic relief Scrat the Squirrell. Scat’s scenes are indeed meant to be funny, and shows him really struggle to keep but also look after his acorn which he fails at a constant rate, and though while occasionally will meet some success and even a sense of reprieve this does lead him to more trouble. Though in the end he is not necessarily an entirely comical character, but also a representation of animals struggling to survive in a dying climate and how far they will go for what is theirs and things they need, and will persist to achieve them, even if they result in failure.

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The film portrays something of an interesting form of spoken juxtaposition as though while this film involves the animals talking in a clear understandable language, the humans are only heard making un-understandale noises. It’s like saying that the humans are just animals to the animals, and that animals are just animals to humans. It provides something of a counter point and helps to change the perspective for the audience to see their part in the film and whom they should be looking out for. Into this we get the baby; now while it’s name may not really be known possibly, that is far from the point as to where he belongs in this film. To begin with of course he is just an objective, a goal, something for the trio to do and to achieve on their journey and in order for them to go on a journey in the first place; but then as the film progresses, and the theme of friendship and family takes hold, the baby becomes something of a way of connecting the group. Initially they have their own ways of how they see the child, but then it helps bring them together, and helps face and provide them with comfort and reasoning in their past life to a more positive future. And so when finally it’s time for them to split, it is a real heart-felt moment as the group comes to acknowledge what such a benefit he was to them, and in some way, they don’t want him to go, in belief that maybe they will split when he is gone.

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The group’s trio of talent is an interesting but also very potent mix of characters made up of what is basically an odd bunched group. Sid for instance is of course a clown, a complete idiot who is the provider of constant laughs. He has a genuine attitude of trying and wanting to do the right thing, but is definitely not cut out to do, well anything. He is a complete misfit who is even abandoned by those who know him, and just happens to run into Manny as a sort of bodyguard. He will try his hardest of course, but comes across as a complete failure. However, as a baby sitter he turns out to be completely indispensable, especially as he is the only one of the group with hands, fingers and opposable thumbs; making him ideal for the purposes of looking after a baby, especially in cleaning up after it. By the end he proves himself to actually be generally useful and someone who is rather caring, if not the best father figure. Meanwhile Diego comes across initially of course as a villain, because well, you would think so wouldn’t you, I mean he is a Sabre Toothed Cat after all and has shown to be in league with another group of Cats who want to eat the Baby. So from here on in he is someone to be watched and looked out for and spends a lot of time trying to get the baby plus set up Manny. Then however he has a complete change of heart, as he realises who Manny is and how special the baby is, especially after Manny saves his life. From here on he tries to fix things, and while nearly loses his life shows with all his strength that he is a changed man (of sorts) and that what he really desires is a life with these guys, and not the life he once lead.

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Manny though is the one with the greatest story. Out of the main group he is the one who you see first and shows quite categorically that he would be rather left alone. He spends a lot of the first act trying to be left alone, then get rid of Sid and everyone he keeps running into, even when he is charged with helping the baby return home it’s just so he can return to his private lonely life. Of course, much like the others, he begins to change, but is still unsure of where this new life is leading, until the moment you discover why he is the way he is. Something that could be considered a mere coincidence, leads to a paralysing memory, as a simple cave painting tells his exact story, a story of how he once had a family, but then by the hand of humanity it was all taken away from him, and has since gone on to lead a cynical lonely life, but through the relationship with the baby, an infant to the species that brought his world to an end; he is able to relive that life once more, and know once again what it’s like to have a family, and have hope for his own future, and by the end of their journey; even with the loss of his and possibly the groups shining light, he knows he doesn’t want to part ways with the others, because he is part of not a group of friends, but part of a family once more.

OKAY, yes this film is a CGI Driven form of animation so I suppose I should take a quick moment to talk about it. As a form of animation the digital effects provided take on two forms. One the design of the landscape is rather blocky to keep in context with the ideas of Ice and an Ice Age, while of course the animals use more rounded shapes. The design of the animals in question is rather neat but carries a lot of character and does not bog itself down with attempts to look realistic, instead working to make the goofy looking shapes and designs of an extinct age work as part of their own design mythos and in turn make them look both rather cute while also maintaining a daft and silly look too. One thing though that has come about I discovered is that I feel that the shading effects, all while be it still very do seem to have aged a bit and don’t look as crisp, but as the film gets going, these effects completely disappear to your eyes looking on something else.

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One thing your mind won’t want to be distracted from is the quality of the film’s soundtrack composed by David Newman. The film does do that thing of creating one piece of music and then sort of editing it around for it to be used in a variety of circumstances but is still the same piece of music. Thankfully it does not do this all the time. The film’s main theme tune is actually rather pleasant and increasingly enjoyable. The film though goes on to create more sounds that become just as a part as the main theme if not more a part from there on. Some of these pieces range from the comical and fast, to the slow and sombre, such scenes of note including the sliding around in the cave, Diego’s near end, Giving the baby back and Manny’s memories in the cave.

One theme though stands out the most and becomes the films semi-main theme if not it’s main: that being Send Me On My Way by Rusted Root. It gets featured as the main travel song for the film’s main journey moments across the ice, as the trio discover the life and environment of the ice age as time goes by on their adventure. Seemingly though, it’s a song with a passionate theme and lyrics that in turn show that while it’s more of a road travel song, it is also talking about the themes and ideas that go into going on a journey; but not by yourself…..but with others.

Ice Age is a really fun film altogether. It has its comedy and laugh out loud moments while also going on to present the look as well as the ideas and troubles faced by animals living during the Ice Age, even going to cover a semi-dark toned route as to cover the deaths that some go to, even if it’s not entirely shown. Ice Age is an adventure with friends; it’s about going on a journey, with a goal to accomplish that in turn bridges the gaps between species and each other. There are times though that this little kiddy animated movie, thing is just going to pull at your heart’s strings and provide moments that will make you laugh, but also feel and even cry; and in that comes a film that is not really a comedy, nor is it a film about a journey, but is a film about family, and the joys of family in a difficult world, and what it’s like to have it, lose it, then find it again, even in the most weird of ways.

GENEPOOL (Whoo, Yeah! Who’s up for round two?).

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