Movie Review - Ice Age

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Chris Wedge, Carlos Saldanha
Twentieth Century Fox
for mild peril

The ice age is coming. The mammoths are dying out. The dodo birds are prepared to go underground for a billion, billion years. But…

All this is not what the story’s about—as fascinating as a story about those things might be. Ice Age is about a sloth, and a mammoth, who are trying to return a motherless human baby to its father, who’s right over… well, he was there just a minute ago. Plan B: track the father, and then return the baby to him. Problem is, mammoths, sloths—they’re not especially good trackers. I mean, tolerable, yes, but what with the trail-obscuring ice and all, they stand in need of some assistance. And, of course, who better to hire on to lead a cute, little human baby home than a hungry saber-tooth tiger?

So, Ice Age’s story line had potential. The characters—Manny Mammoth, Sid Sloth and Diego Saber-tooth—ended up being a bit on the typical side, but that’s not always a bad thing. The backdrop was just what you’d expect from the title: ice, snow… and more ice. The animation was, I’d say, somewhere around average: good on the micro (snow, fur and the like), rather bland on the macro (scenery), and a little over-the-top on the facial expressions. There were times when the scripting was a trifle obvious, and the ending was predictable.

For a kids’ movie, though, or a family movie where there are still children under twelve involved, we’re not necessarily demanding artistic innovation or a study in theatrical excellence. What we would like to see in a family movie is child-appropriate content. How does Ice Age fare on that account?

Violent and Intense Content:
Well, it starts off rather intense for little ones. The animation may not be top-notch, but it’s probably realistic enough to scare younger children during the battle sequences between humans and saber-tooth tigers. The human baby’s just cute enough to make a sensitive eight-year-old shudder when the tigers talk in sinister, gravely voices about eating it. Its mother is just realistic enough to make it kind of alarming when—spoiler warning—she jumps off a cliff to escape being eaten, and presumably dies thereafter. There are a few miscellaneous-peril type of scenes, ranging from avalanches to volcanoes, and a couple of chase scenes in which characters are severely injured.

Ice Age also has quite a bit of comical violence—some of it not too problematic, since a couple of the characters don’t seem to mind the pain much; some of it, more on the practical-joke level, and maybe not the best example for some kids.

The casual name-calling among the main characters may be a problem with some kids, as well—likewise the occasional grumpy sarcasm.

There’s a “Jeez”, a “Gosh”, and a “What the…”. One of the main characters lies to protect someone.

Macro-evolution comes up several times in Ice Age, sometimes mentioned by name, sometimes just very strongly implied. When the characters come right out and use the words “evolutionary” or “evolved”, the context actually doesn’t promote the idea; just the opposite, in fact (the quadruped who’s so sure he’s evolving flight capabilities that he jumps off a precipice, to ill effect; the least intelligent character of the bunch boasting about his “highly evolved” brain, etc.). Not so amusing, the obvious line-up of an evolutionary progression from simple organism to ape-like creature frozen in an ice cave. Amusing, but still biblically and scientifically off-base, is the space ship encased in ice. The movie ends with a subplot continued “20,000 years later.”

There could be an environmentalist slant to Ice Age in, for example, a character’s dying charge to the baby that he must “take care of” the animals (taking dominion probably isn’t what was in view, here). There could be an anti-hunting message in the animals’ concern that the baby will be a hunter like his father when he grows up, and in the subplot about humans having killed one of the animals’ family. Without knowing the moviemakers’ motives, it’s hard to say for sure. There could still further be (more likely than the other two) an influenced-by-socialism message in the idea that Sid Sloth, Manny Mammoth, the baby and—spoiler warning—eventually Diego the tiger, constitute a “herd”: a voluntary social construct that binds them together in the way we think of families being bound together. The voluntary relationship is fine (if maybe a little odd, considering they’re natural enemies), but this kind of attention to social-contract scenarios rather than family and household relationships happens so often—deliberately—in other films that it’s just a good idea to be aware of it in movies like Ice Age.

I have no idea what kind of slant might go behind the portrayal of the dodo birds as militant, brainless, end-of-the-world freaks who are all about protecting “the dodo way of life.” I’m not aware of any particular, real-life group that fits that description very well, but it’s possible the movie makers had one in mind, and that some viewer out there might find the comedy of that segment offensive.

A tiger claims to have nine lives.

Sexual Content:
You’d think that in a movie about—well, not really about, but at least set in an icy wasteland, with four main characters, all of whom are male, and each of whom is from a completely different species, there wouldn’t be a whole lot of sexual content. And there’s not. There’s still a bit worth mentioning, though.

Sid tries to tell Manny about some of his encounters with female sloths, and concludes with the opinion that “mating for life is stupid.” Manny gives a statement on the side of faithfulness, but Sid remains unconvinced through the entire movie. He also spends some time in a hot tub (crater of warm mud, actually) flirting with a couple of charmed females, and is extremely anxious to return to their attention afterward.

It turns out there is serious debate among Ice Age viewers over whether the two male rhinos that appear a few times during the movie were intentionally designed as a homosexual couple. They’re together each time they appear, they seem to have a close relationship, they dine on salad together, save the last dandelion for each other, speak rather tenderly and occasionally in a sing-song voice, and show up enjoying the hot tub side by side. This is a situation where individual families would have to judge for themselves. A homosexual innuendo that is not debated is Diego’s remark on first seeing Sid and Manny together, that “You two are a bit of an odd couple,” and when the baby is brought into the situation, “I see. You can’t have one of your own, so you want to adopt.” Sid later says, “How ‘bout a goodnight kiss for your buddy Sid,” and then tells Manny that he was talking to him, not the baby; this could be taken a couple of different ways.

When most family-friendly movie reviewers use the phrase, “navigating the content,” you usually find that their idea of navigation isn’t so much the GPS, road-map, street-sign, pull-over-and-ask-for-directions, destination-in-mind experience most of us get in real life. It’s more like Ice Age’s computer-animated accidental luge scene: extreme speeds, fast turns, run-into-anything-unexpected-and… well, we won’t go into that. The typical use of the phrase definitely gives you the idea that most family-friendly reviews expect you to be Olympic-level “navigators” of horrible content, just so you can spend a couple of hours watching great art. That’s not quite what I mean—about the content or the art—when I say, as I’m about to, that I’m pretty sure you can navigate Ice Age’s occasional problems.

Ice Age really isn’t a fast-paced movie, and the spurts of questionable elements are few enough, and far enough in between, that families can easily point out the issues to younger viewers without breaking up the flow of the movie, or missing anything in the mean while. Yes, it’s true that the Titanic should have been able to “navigate” around all the icebergs in the north Atlantic, and it didn’t manage to do that, so of course care should be taken with children who might find the name-calling attractive, or who would be bothered by the violence.

My personal rating of Ice Age, though, has less to do with the occasional reference to evolution, and more to do with the fact that, although there are some cute moments in the movie, you can pretty much tell anything that the characters are going to say or do, from ten seconds to about an hour and a half in advance. Ice Age is not one of the more engaging films of the decade, and for that reason it’s not on my list of movies to watch again, but since that’s a matter of personal taste, I’m not going to try to argue anyone else out of watching it, or out of enjoying it over again if they found it more in their style.



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