They came…they saw…they thawed…
At this moment in cinematic history, there seems to be no greater goldmine than computer animated movies. If you run down the list of released CGI animated films of the past few years, what does it look like?
See anything similar about these movies? Well, duh. All did very respectable business at the box office. While there have been a few duds (Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, anyone?), overall the equation for these films is a solid one: Cute Animals/Creatures/Toys + Wacky Situation x Kid Humor / Adult Humor = Box Office Gold. The latest entry is the mammoth (pun intended) hit Ice Age. Featuring the voice talents of Ray Romano (TV's Everyone Loves Raymond), Denis Leary (The Ref), and John Leguizamo (Spawn), Ice Age makes its way to DVD in a two-disc set care of Fox Home Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
With the impending ice age on the way, the furry mammals of the past are off to a warmer climate…well, everyone except a goofy group of furballs who have a small problem on their hands—a human baby! When Manfred (Romano), a giant wooly mammoth, runs headlong into the obnoxious sloth Sid (Leguizamo), they accidentally come across a little lost baby whose mother died while trying to save him. Even though he knows humans are dangerous, Manfred reluctantly agrees to Sid's idea of returning the baby to its tribe. Along the way they run into Diego (Leary), a saber-toothed tiger who also has a desire to help return the baby to its rightful family. When Manfred and Sid don't know is that Diego has an ulterior motive: his malicious gang of tigers want the baby—and Manny, and Sid—as a meal! As Manfred, Sid, and Diego trek across the icy wilderness, they'll learn what it means to move in a pack…and watch your friend's back!
I was one of only seemingly twelve people who missed Ice Age when it hit theaters a few months back. Generally I have a self-imposed rule of not seeing most animated films in the theaters (yes, it's a lame rule, but a rule nonetheless). There are usually so many other movies out that I'd rather spend my hard-earned cash on that normally I don't see anything released by Disney, Pixar, or any other animation studio (the exceptions that I can think of are Hercules, Shrek, and The Emperor's New Groove). After watching Ice Age, I'm kind of sad that I missed in upon its initial run.
The thing that struck me first about Ice Age is that it's not as sappy and heavy-handed as some of Disney's previous efforts. While there are moments of tenderness and cuteness, this is more a fun romp that has more in common with Tommy Boy than it does Toy Story. Like the previous film, Ice Age is your basic road movie that features a smart guy and a dumb guy traveling together—and just for good measure we also get a hot tempered tiger—who have to achieve some objective (selling brake pads, giving back a baby…what's the difference?) and overcome the odds. Ice Age was Fox's first real foray into the world of computer animated films, and with this single effort they've done a very good (if not great) job at making it accessible to both children and adults alike—even with a stupid PG rating for "mild peril."
The actors who supply the voices are all perfect choices. I think that Ray Romano is one of the funniest guys working on TV today. His droll, deadpan humor works wonders with Manny's hulking, Snuffleupagus-like exterior. Denis Leary, no stranger to computer animated film since starring in Disney's A Bug's Life, is effectively menacing as the deadly Diego. Of course, I'm not ruining anything by saying Diego eventually comes to his senses and defends both Sid and Manny against his fellow wildcat brothers (and if that did ruin it for you, you need to get out more often). Even though Diego—and most of the characters, for that matter—are fairly predictable, they're still are a lot of fun to hang out with. John Leguizamo as Sid is also a crackup; he's given the most room to be funny since his character is the zany, nutty guy of the group.
And then there's my personal favorite: Scrat. Everyone remembers Scrat. He's the little squirrel-like rodent that was seen among the initial trailers for the film. With his beady little eyes and nervous movements, Scrat is the epitome of comedy. The first five minutes of the film are some of the funniest moments of animation I've ever witnessed. I loved that the animators didn't just use Scrat in the beginning, then tossed him out—Scrat shows up every now and then in the to show how much he wants to hold onto his precious acorn. There's even a funny game of charades where Scrat tries to…ah, well I'll just let you see the film to find out.
Ice Age may not feature a complex plot or an overly unique storyline. What it does include are some amusing characters, a nice morality tale, and a lot of laughs. In today's cynical age of terrorism, mad snipers, and other horrors, Ice Age is a very nice hour and a half vacation into the past.
Ice Age is presented in an excellent looking 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. On par with most all of the other animated films released on DVD, Ice Age looks to be in absolute pristine condition. The vast colors are bright and thrilling with the black levels all dark and well rendered. After searching high and low (i.e., the first 10 minutes of the movie), I couldn't find a single thing wrong with this print. Fox has done an absolute wonderful job at making sure this print is clear and blemish free. Also included on this disc is a pan and scan full frame version of the film, though it's highly recommended you watch this film in its original widescreen aspect ratio.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English. Much like the video presentation, this 5.1 mix is nearly perfect in relation to the film it's supporting. There are a multitude of directional effects and surround sounds to be found in this film, and the soundtrack makes great use of them by enveloping the viewer in the world of snow, sloths, and snowboarding. With all aspects of this mix free and clear of any hiss or distortion, fans will be more than pleased with how fine this audio track sounds. Also included on this disc are Dolby Digital 2.0 surround soundtracks in English and French, as well as English and Spanish subtitles.
And now we come to the special features, of which there are many, though not as many as previous DVD sets. Fox decided to release Ice Age in a coveted two-disc edition with a multitude of supplemental materials. Here's the run down of what's on these discs:
Games—"Hide and Eek," "Frozen Paris," and "Playing Darwin": All three of these games are aimed mainly at the kiddies, though I personally enjoyed watching Scrat run around in "Hide and Eek." Good for a few chuckles, and that's about it.
DVD-ROM Content: There are a few games/activities for a personal computer, including a rather enjoyable snowboarding game with Sid.
Deleted Scenes: Six deleted scenes are featured in non-anamorphic widescreen with optional commentary by director Chris Wedge. Some of these are actually pretty funny (especially the stuff involving Sid, some lady friends, and a little innuendo). Unlike most deleted scenes, I can easily recommend these, as they're a real hoot.
Sid on Sid: This is basically a commentary track by John Leguizamo in character as Sid, except we actually get to see Sid watch the film from a chair. Some of the stuff is funny, some of it's only mildly amusing. Worth the watch if you've got the time. Otherwise, this isn't a necessity.
Scrat Reveals: A batch of promotions for Fox that utilize Scrat accidentally causing an avalanche and having the word "Fox" pop out from underneath. Most likely the least exciting of all the special features.
Animation Progression: This feature allows the viewer to watch three different scenes ("Opening," "Almost Home," "Tigers Attack") in various stages of production (sketches, rough computer work, models, nearly finished animation, et cetera). This was actually a pretty fun little feature that utilizes the multi-angle button on your remote control.
International Ice Age: Fun for the whole family! Watch a specific scene from the film in all kinds of languages! Thrill to Manfred speaking Danish! Laugh as Sid gets hit on the head and cries out in Greek! Yes, it's pretty pointless…but it is entertaining.
"Bunny" Animated Short: An early feature by the animators. This adorable and touching film has to do with death and what happens after we die. If you're going to watch it with kids, be prepared to answer some tough questions they might have afterwards. Features a beautiful end song by singer Tom Waits.
Under The Ice: Holy crap! What seems to be about seven dozen different little looks at the making of the film, the concepts, models, storyboards, finishing touches, lighting, et cetera. If you're looking to know about all things Ice Age, you've come to the right place. Some of these featurettes are longer than others (some only a few moments long), though all are very informative and should give the viewer a wealth of knowledge about what went in to making the film. My favorite featurette dealt with the voice actors and the always funny Ray Romano.
Design Galleries: There's a fair amount of info on the different animals in this section, as well as some sketches from the pre-production stages.
Trailers: Finally, there are the promotional materials, and included here are two theatrical trailers, that wonderful teaser trailer featuring Scrat and his acorn, and a DVD trailer for the film Like Mike starring Lil' Bow Wow.
Kids'll love it. Adults'll enjoy it. You'll go bonkers for Ice Age! I thought this was a sweet, chuckle-inducing movie that is well worth seeing on DVD. Fox has done a great job on this two-disc set, even if the supplements seem a bit thin in comparison to other two-disc special editions.
Ice Age is a warm movie that will melt the ice off any cold heart! Acquitted! Case dismissed!
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary Track by Director Chris Wedge and Co-Director Carlos Saldanha
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