A JoBlo look at Ice Age
No pressure. You've got a big-budget film coming out this weekend in over 3,000 theaters. Twentieth Century Fox, whose last animated film was the disappointing failure TITAN AE, has closed its animation department and is counting on you to rebuild any hopes of chasing the Disney and Dreamworks empires. Your first full-length feature film has been hyped relentlessly over the course of the past few weeks including the Winter Olympics which was viewed by over millions upon millions of people. No pressure
Whether ICE AGE succeeds this weekend or not (successful could probably be considered as grossing more than $20 million), director Chris Wedge is going to need a vacation next week. On one hand, he'll be able to take a deep breath, shake that monkey off his back and bask in the warm glow of a successful film. On the other, he'll have to go into hiding and try to (somehow) forget that his failure could be a crippling blow to an entire studio looking to get back into the animation game.
If it helps him (and Fox) get through the next few days, ICE AGE has been tracking well. Entertainment Weekly said the film was a "sweet-spirited pleasure" with a B+ rating, and has received positive ratings from Roger Ebert, Hollywood Reporter and numerous other critics. (Our critic, JoBlo, is on vacation this week and will likely not review this film.) But can all the publicity and buzz put the ever-important butts in the seats? More importantly, and how animated films become so profitable, can ICE AGE keep the kids (and their parents) coming back for second and third helpings?
ICE AGE is clearly marketed towards children but one things we've learned in this post-Pixar world is that cartoons can be for adults as well. And if the bar was raised after TOY STORY and TOY STORY 2, it went even higher with the release of SHREK this summer. But Wedge and screenwriters Michael Berg, Michael J. Wilson, and Peter Ackerman were clearly up to the challenge. They recruited Ray Romano, Denis Leary, and John Leguizamo to voice the three prehistoric mammals (Manny, a wooly mammoth, Diego, a sabretooth tiger and Sid, a sloth, respectively), who embark, somewhat reluctantly, on a mission to return a human baby to its family. Let us not forget the manic misadventures of a half-squirrel/half-rat dubbed Scrat who's on a mission of his own - burying his prized acorn.
All of this stems from the creative mind of director Wedge, who won an Academy Award for his animated short BUNNY (available for download here), and his Blue Sky Studios, a New York based animation studio. Wedge, who first made a name for himself as an animator creating the visual effects for the Disney movie TRON, has gone on to supervise CGI effects work on such films as ALIEN: RESURRECTION, JOE'S APARTMENT, A SIMPLE WISH and STAR TREK: INSURRECTION. Blue Sky was acquired by Fox before the release of BUNNY and shortly after that project won an Oscar, the greenlight was given to ICE AGE. The film was originally pitched as "three prehistoric mammals and a baby" says Wedge, but while that may sound like a hokey premise, the film develops into much more.
The film steps out of the shadow of its CGI predecessors to be as amusing, charming and enjoyable as it wants to be. The comedy could have felt forced (Fox execs reportedly wanted more adult humor and innuendo but Wedge refused) but the creative team turned to animation legend Chuck Jones and his Warner Bros. shorts for inspiration. You can feel the influence of the late, great Jones not only in the artistry but also the brand of slapsticky humor. Meanwhile, Romano, Leary and Leguizamo turn in fine comedic performances as the mismatched trio and don't be surprised if you see more of Scrat (*cough*spinoff*cough*) somewhere in the future. He's been the star of the marketing campaign so far and is likely to be the most remembered character (i.e. SHREK'S Gingerbread Man) of the film.
A great marketing campaign, solid buzz and consistently positive reviews make ICE AGE the movie to beat this weekend. What also helps, in a slick move on behalf of Fox, is the attachment of the new STAR WARS, EPISODE 2: ATTACK OF THE CLONES trailer exclusively to the movie. All this points to a successful weekend for ICE AGE, but enough so to rebuild the crumbled Fox Animation? Possibly, but consider this laying a strong foundation. From here Fox, Wedge and Blue Sky can build up with their next feature, on which their keeping quiet but reportedly features robots. So really no pressure.