Written by: Michael Berg, Michael J. Wilson, Peter Ackerman
Starring: Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, Chris Wege, Goran Višnjić
Surviving out in the freezing cold serves as quite an obstacle for humans, which only gets worse when looking back to an era where we had to compete with other animals for basic resources. A world of danger simplified into family fare in Ice Age where it turns out these animals have a conscience with some fun voice acting and some shoddy visual effects.
With the potential ice age coming, several animals decide it’s time to migrate before things truly get bad. This coincides with a baby surviving an attack from some saber-toothed tigers where it’s found by a roaming woolly mammoth, Manny (Ray Romano), and a sloth named Sid (John Leguizamo). As they begin their journey to return the kid to the remaining members of his family, they are joined by one of the saber-toothed tigers, Diego (Denis Leary), who hopes to take the kid for his pack when given the opportunity.
Much more appreciated in its time rather than how well it has necessarily aged, Ice Age continues to boast some memorable moments but much of it does feel incredibly derivative. The most lasting impact comes from watching the poor prehistoric squirrel continue to simply get an acorn and stuff it somewhere. Plenty of other aspects within the narrative come from borrowed material with the most obvious one being the introduction of Manny and Sid coming as an almost side-by-side comparison of a particular ogre and donkey in Shrek. In moments like this, it shows this film did not have an abundance of ideas of its own to explore, but its setting allows for more appreciation of animals once existent in our world but now long gone.
Typically reanimated for humans to get a basic idea, Ice Age serves the good educational purpose of telling a story with these extinct characters. Sure, they have close relations to the currently existing ones, but seeing a hairy woolly mammoth exchange dialogue with a saber-toothed tiger breaks down the idea of predator and prey, especially in the way it relates to humans. This era in our existence proved we were not the apex predators we have become with our technological advancements. The biggest advantage humans held at that time was disposable thumbs to utilize a spear, but we certainly did not have the advances to make us quicker and stronger than we naturally are. It’s what makes this journey so dangerous for this young baby. Sabre-tooth tigers like Diego certainly posed a threat but they would be wrong to try and mess with mammoth like Manny who has to tools to kill at will as well but chooses not to.
The most shocking aspect of the feature does come from the animation. With this being the very first feature film Blue Sky Studios ever created, it showed there was still plenty of room to grow. While the animals look good enough for the time, it came in the animation of the humans of the story where it became shocking almost to an uncanny valley level. Considering this film saw its release in 2002, and comparing it to other features released around the same time, it firmly does not compare to many of them. The incredible success financially of this film allowed for more money to advance these effects in later films but for the specific instance of this feature, these humans look insufficient in a terrorizing way.
At the center of this entire story are the three animals, who all sit on different levels of the food chain. Sid, the sloth, undoubtedly sits at the bottom of it and his association with Manny pretty much becomes the only thing keeping him alive for much of the film. As three essential loners, the relationship kindled between them all makes for the movement of character arcs as they learn how to work together and become their own little family all having the same purpose of getting this baby back to safety, except for Diego initially. Their family formation makes everything else work and even allows for forgiveness of its more derivative aspects.
Certainly, a landmark film when thinking of the work Blue Sky Studios has added to the animation landscape, Ice Age struggles with its early effects but has a story that can help see past it. This feature has plenty of comedic moments but also a couple of heartwarming ones as well, which comes with these characters learning to gel with one another even as they sit at different levels of the food chain and intentions throughout the feature. Definitely one kids will enjoy but necessarily one to revisit for its overall quality.