Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.
I seem to ignore animated films on my Oscar list. I think the reason is that there are so comparatively few of them that I feel like the other categories are simply more pressing. Another part of it is that either my kids or I own a bunch of them, which makes difficult to find films more important concerns. I’ve decided that I should try to put them into the rotation more, though. It’s the category of film that I’ve ignored the most in general, and I should rectify that. With that in mind, I watched Ice Age, a nominee from 2002, the first year this category had a full slate of five nominees.
Ice Age is actually two stories, the main story and the tale of a saber-toothed squirrel named Scrat (“voiced” by director Chris Wedge). Scrat shows up in the film’s opening and at random times throughout the film, always as a comedic element. Scrat’s entire story is his attempting to hide an acorn that’s roughly the size of his head. Throughout the film, whenever Scrat appears, he attempts to hide the nut and has something terrible happen to him that prevents him from doing so.
The main story concerns a trio of unlikely companions attempting to take a human child back to his family. The first of these is Manfred the mammoth (Ray Romano). While herds of animals are moving south in front of the advancing glaciers, Manny is heading north instead. Manny is irritable and wants only to be alone for reasons we discover near the end of the second act. Second is Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo). Sid has been abandoned by his sloth family on the migration because, well, because he’s annoying. Sid gets tied up with Manny when Manny saves Sid from a couple of angry rhinoceroses.
The third member of the main cast is Diego, the saber-toothed tiger (Dennis Leary). It’s Diego, more or less, who starts the whole plot of the film going. His pack of tigers, led by Soto (Goran Visnjic), has suffered losses at the hands of the local human tribe. Soto wants revenge, and charges Diego with stealing the baby from the tribe’s leader and bringing it back. The pack attacks the human camp and Diego makes his move, but the baby’s mother leaps off a waterfall with the baby. Eventually, the mother encounters Manny and Sid and leaves the baby with them before dying. Diego shows up, promising to lead them all to where the humans have gone, but actually intending to lead everyone into an ambush.
And really, that’s it. More or less, the plot is dealing with issues of bringing this human infant back to his father and with Diego’s slow realization that both Manny and Sid are willing to risk their lives for him. This naturally ends in a confrontation between the diverse animal trio and the remaining members of Diego’s pack.
Ice Age gets a lot right. For starters, there’s no shortage of comedy moments, many of them instigated by Sid, who is almost purely comic. There’s also a good amount of characterization. Both Manny and Sid have fully-fleshed personalities. This is less true of Diego for much of the film, but this is due in large part to Diego being something of a villain for the first two acts of the film. In fact, it’s Diego who grows the most as a character.
The film is also very smart with violence. We’re looking at a period in history where more than at any other time, life was nasty, brutish, and short. There is death here. In two instances, it’s treated not with reverence, but with tact. We don’t actually see death; we just imply that it has happened in a couple of cases. The third case happens with a flock of dodos, which die off in a variety of comic ways. They’re played entirely for comedy and it works completely.
There’s no doubt that Ice Age was made with kids in mind, but I would also suggest that it’s smarter than that. Unlike many movies where the parents will be forced to attend, Ice Age doesn’t really attempt to do anything special for the grown-ups in the audience. There aren’t a lot of “adult” jokes that will go over the kids’ heads. Instead, the effort is made on making jokes that the entire audience will like and a story that is engaging for people of any age. On these two fronts, it succeeds almost entirely.
For what it’s worth, then, I liked Ice Age pretty well. It’s entertaining and fun, but doesn’t really hold back on some of the less pleasant realities of where the story goes. I’d have been fine with it going on a little longer, too. I can’t speak for any of the sequels, all of which have been well reviewed, but with slightly less enthusiasm than this one.
It’s always appreciated when a movie doesn’t talk down to its audience. Ice Age is smart enough to entertain young kids and still be entertaining in exactly the same way for adults without treating anyone as mentally inferior. That’s smart filmmaking and good writing.
Why to watch Ice Age: Fun for the whole family.
Why not to watch: It’s arguably too short.