Sid: I bet he’s hungry.
Manny: How ’bout some milk?
Sid: Ooh, I’d love some!
Diego: Not you. The baby.
Sid: Well, I ain’t exactly lactating right now, pal.
Diego: You’re a little low on the food chain to be mouthing off, aren’t you…
I’m just going to start out by saying that I adore this movie. If I had to list my top 20 movies of all time, this one might squeak in at #18 or so. A lot of people though apparently didn’t really like this movie. I understand why. It’s not perfect. It does have a lot of flaws, but personally, I’m willing to see past all the flaws and the familiarity because of one thing: the characters.
I’ve said before that good characters are really what get me hooked into a movie. The plot can be familiar or confusing or crappy, but if the characters are good, I’m going to at least enjoy it more than most people. This movie is a superb example of that. Oh these characters. They’re awesome. But more on them in a bit. What’s this movie about?
If you’ve ever seen the 80s movie “Three Men and a Baby,” then you know a big chunk of the plot, except replace the people with ice age animals. It’s migration season and a sloth named Sid gets left behind by his family, only to meet up with a moody mammoth named Manny. After Manny saves his life, Sid sticks around, much to the chagrin of Manny, who just wants to be left alone. They soon run into a woman drifting down a river with her baby, and just as they rescue it, she disappears. Turns out her village was attacked by Saber toothed tigers, and the rest of the kids tribe is moving on, having thought that the woman and the baby were lost. Enter Diego, our saber-toothed tiger friend, who was told to bring the baby to his leader for the ultimate revenge. Seeing through his guise, Manny tells Diego that he’s going to lead them to the pass where the humans went. After that it’s a road trip movie, with our characters dealing with the human baby, the elements, other creatures, eventually reaching the kid’s family. In a nutshell, that’s Ice Age.
Now let’s get back to those characters. There is so much good stuff here. The way these characters are developed and their relationships with each other is so real and so good, it makes you want more.
Let’s start with Sid, the sloth. The biologist in me really wants to point out that sid looks NOTHING like a real Megatheria. He is not the right size or shape, but I’m willing to look past it. We first meet Sid when he falls out of a tree, realizing migration has started and that his family has completely ditched him. Turns out he’s incredibly annoying, so it makes sense. But of course he doesn’t get this. He’s the annoying guy who doesn’t know how bad he is. He’s also not that smart, and throughout the movie is the main source of humor. That being said, he has a good heart and you do feel sorry for him that his family just left him.
Diego, our saber-toothed tiger, is a good “bad guy turned good” character. He starts the movie by attacking the human settlement with his pack, and promises his leader he will get the baby no matter what. He then promises them to also deliver a mammoth, but then begins to have second thoughts upon seeing the selfless nature of Manny and realizing that these two really are good, loyal creatures. He also grows to know the baby, and I don’t know why, but a very strong bond seems to form with the kid and Diego. The cat’s sarcastic and serious, but eventually learns to lighten up.
Then there’s Manny the mammoth. He’s brought forth as being quiet, cranky and reserved. The first time we meet him he’s going the opposite direction as the other animals migrating, and the first words out of his mouth are an insult. Turns out he has a reason to be this way. We find out about 3/4 through the movie that his family was actually killed by humans, including his young child. While this is sort of a big reveal, the writers give clues to this throughout the movie is very subtle ways, which I think is part of the greatness of this character. He makes off handed comments about being loyal to the ones you love. Once the baby arrives, he makes comments about how he can’t believe this little thing is going to grow up to be a great hunter. He refuses at first to take it back to the humans, suggesting that death is a better option. As a first time watcher you might get the idea that he lost someone, but not to the extent that he has. It scars him, and this kid, along with Sid and Diego, help to pull him back to the world of reality and realize that connecting with other creatures is actually good for you.
And that is what this movie does the best. It has a LOT of heart. It has a lot of laughs too, but where it gets me is in its drama, and in some of the interactions between its characters. These things are written so well. You can’t help but tear up. This movie seriously tugs at your heartstrings. I’ve mentioned that Manny’s past gets brought up and that we learn his wife and kid die. The way they do it is so unique and so memorable and so… perfect. There are no words. It’s done through a series of cave drawings, sound effects, and music that just has to make you tear up. It’s the moment you realize Manny is justified for his actions, and it’s also the moment he realizes it’s ok to get connected to the little human, despite the fact his relatives killed the ones he loved. I like to think that at that moment he even understands the father of this kid and what he must be going through, thinking he lost everyone. That’s when Manny becomes determined to return the kid. It’s just so well done.
The other part of this movie that really makes me cry is at the end. *spoilers ahead.* At one point, Diego sacrifices himself to save Manny when the other sabers are attacking, showing he is, in fact, a good guy. Knowing he’s left for dead and that if he limps along they won’t make it to the humans in time, he tells the others to go. The kid is all upset, having grown really attached to the tiger. Anyway… yeah that’s a touching scene and all, and it does make me tear up, but the real tearjerker is the end when the kid is being reunited with his family. The father’s hesitation at a mammoth approaching, then joy as he see his child is indescribable. The understanding the father and Manny seem to hold for one another. Then, as the father and the baby are leaving, the baby peeks back one last time to say goodbye, and there’s Diego, limping up and making sure he gets to say goodbye. The look on the kid’s face as he knows Diego was ok… the kindness in Diego’s eyes and his wave goodbye. It just gets me. I cry every single time. Because you understand the connections between these characters. You believe them because they are so real. They are so great.
While the dramatic stuff really did surprise me the first time I saw this, the humor is what this movie is known for and what it was marketed as. And while the humor is good and funny and I do chuckle, I feel as if this is what the execs capitalized on when it made all the sequels and forgot to put in as much heart. They tried, but could somehow never produce another one quite like the first one.
Ok, so about the humor. A LOT of it is puns on the time period. While some of them are funny (“Come on kids, you can finish playing extinction later”), it just gets to be a little much. Especially when 80% of these puns come literally in the first 5 minutes of the movie. We didn’t need that many. But once they get it out of their system and the story starts rolling, we don’t get many of those puns anymore. Instead we get weird situations, weird characters, and very random tie ins to things that people know.
For example: during a montage, the main four pass stonehenge, and manny goes “modern art – it will never last.” ok, that’s kinda funny. In the same montage a bit later, Sid takes a rest in a hole, and the other two count down, and it erupts, leaving Manny to go “it sure is faithful.” haha… old faithful, get it? Yeah. That’s what I mean by tie ins. These two things are nowhere close to each other on the earth, but they put them on the journey because hey, it would be funny, right? Eh…
The one scene I simply adore (although I’m sure a lot of people actually despise this part), is the scene with the Dodos. Yes, this is completely not realistic. Dodos weren’t around in the ice age, and they lived on a tropical island cause Mauritius, and became extinct because humans killed them. For once, I don’t care that this is completely wrong, because they’re Dodos, and everyone makes fun of Dodos. Anyway, they come across the Dodos preparing for the Ice Age, and everything about them is just stupid. They have 3 watermelons to get them through the whole ice age. They lose their last female in a fight to reclaim one of the watermelons. They’re just…. It’s immature, but man, it’s so funny.
The last thing I want to talk about is how this movie is actually put together. I remember when this came out I thought that the animation looked horrendous. Granted it’s not from some huge animation company (it’s 20th Century Fox), but even in 2002, I expected it to look better than this. Then I realized that this is stylized. While every other animation company was working really hard to try and get their animation to look real, Ice Age knew it was an animated kids flick and didn’t bother to make it look real. The backgrounds are choppy. There’s not a ton of detail. But that’s ok. It still looks great. If anything, it makes it look like an old-timey cartoon.
Along with this animation style, they incorporated something else that I have to admit is very interesting. That’s scrap, the little squirrel who really has nothing to do with the main characters or the story, but is placed in between scenes almost as a break. It’s strange, but at the same time it really works. Scrap starts out our movie, and throughout the whole thing he’s there, and all he’s trying to do is get an acorn. But of course he never can. He is occasionally in the same scene or place as our characters, and they do interact once, but other than that he’s on his own. It’s like they used him to go from scene to scene, and added little shorts in between. He is hilarious, and I know kids really liked him. It just makes me wonder if this movie is a perfect example of how our attention spans have deteriorated. Eh… I won’t get into that, I just wonder if they didn’t have scrap if kids would like this movie still as much. (and no, he never does get that acorn.)
I really enjoy Ice Age, and I would suggest it to families with kids, or even teenagers or adults who tend to like family movies. It’s definitely got enough in it to keep everyone happy, and I do believe it to be a bit underrated today. It still holds up very well. I don’t own any of the others, so I can’t review those. I did own the second one at one point, and while it was good, it lacked the heart of the first. I sold it, but it is still a fun movie in itself. I just wish they would have realized that the humor wasn’t the only thing that made Ice Age so good.
I give Ice Age (2002) a 4 out of 5. It has its flaws, but it’s a movie I always enjoy watching.
Next up: Despicable Me