Judge Clark Douglas has frequently been accused of being a relic of the stone age.
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As far as the entertainment industry is concerned, there's no such thing as a surplus of holiday entertainment. Every year, we're treated to an onslaught of new made-for-TV movies, big theatrical releases, holiday-themed episodes of countless TV shows, variety programs and animated specials which remind us in spectacularly unsubtle fashion that Christmas is the most awesome thing in the history of ever (and you'd better get in the spirit, pal). Dreamworks Animation has eagerly jumped on the bandwagon in recent years, delivering Shrek the Halls in 2007 and the Kung Fu Panda Holiday Special in 2010. Not to be outdone, the folks at Blue Sky have given their most popular franchise a half-hour special in the form of Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas.
Let's start with the positive:
• Frankly, Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas is a step up from the Dreamworks specials. That isn't saying much, when you consider the poor quality of those specials, but it's a start.
• There's a reason Scrat is featured on the front of the packaging despite the fact that he remains a small supporting character. Once again, the Scrat sequences (delightful, inventive bits of slapstick in which the increasingly disheartened critter desperately attempts to retrieve an acorn) steal the show from the central story featuring the main characters.
• The special gets off to a pretty good start in its first act, amusingly demonstrating the manner in which the Ice Age gang started many of our favorite Christmas traditions by accident; traditions which replace Manny's (Ray Romano, Men of a Certain Age) long-standing habit of finding a colorful "Christmas rock" for Santa Claus each year.
• Denis Leary (Rescue Me) manages to sneak in a few good lines as the moderately surly saber-toothed tiger Diego. The sequence in which he chases a ball of twine is particularly entertaining.
Alas, these qualities are somewhat overwhelmed by the special's flaws:
• The central storyline follows Manny and Gloria's (Queen Latifah, Bringing Down the House) bratty kid as he wanders off to the North Pole with Sid the Sloth (John Leguizamo, Carlito's Way) in an attempt to find out whether Santa Claus is real. This grows tedious rather quickly, building to a predictable final act in which all of the characters are required to band together to help save Christmas (a holiday which seems to require saving far more frequently than most of the others; you don't see the Fourth of July acting like a damsel in distress every year).
• Though Blue Sky has always been better at goofy slapstick than sweet-natured storytelling, A Mammoth Christmas continues their tradition of spending too much time on aimless sentiment. There's a particularly cringe-inducing sequence in which Manny is stressing out over losing his child. Gloria's proposed solution: "Look…just believe in the magic of Christmas, and it'll be okay." As you might expect, this advice is validated in a fashion which is far more likely to inspire weary sighs than tears of joy.
• As you might expect, the animation quality is far below the standard of quality set by the theatrical films. I wasn't expecting anything breathtaking, but the animation adds to the generally cheap, thrown-together vibe of the special.
Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas (Blu-ray) sports an entirely satisfactory 1.78:1/1080 transfer; the only problem is that the tremendous detail highlights the flaws in the animation. Still, colors are bright and vibrant, blacks are deep and there aren't any banding or compression issues. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track is just fine, though the music is pretty generic (it lacks the originality of David Newman's delightful score for the first film and lacks the vigorous energy of John Powell's scores for the sequels). There's precious little in the way of supplemental material: a sneak peek at Ice Age: Continental Drift, a forgettable "Swinging Jingle Bells" music video, a DVD copy and a digital copy. It's kind of hilarious that a special this short and slight is getting a 3-disc release, but there it is.
I certainly didn't hate Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas. Honestly, I've always had at least some affection for the series (mostly thanks to Scrat, who remains one of the greatest characters of the CG animation era), and the special is so brief, conventional, and amiable that it's hard to work up any strong feelings about it one way or the other. If your kids love the movies, they'll probably have a good time, but the special never manages to feel like anything more than a holiday-themed reminder that this middle-of-the-road animated franchise still exists.
Baby, it's cold outside.
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