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Review: “Ice Age: Collision Course” – When Subplots Collide

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Ice Age: Collision Course

ice-age-one-sheet-runningIt’s hard to believe that the first Ice Age movie came out nearly 15 years ago.  Actually, no it isn’t, considering the latest installment, Ice Age: Collision Course, is the fifth movie in the franchise.  You can’t blame Blue Sky Studios for churning out these movies.  With the number of animation studios these days and their massive output, Blue Sky Studios needed a tentpole to keep their films from being mistaken for DreamWorks or even Pixar, and Ice Age has been steadily rivaling DreamWorks’ similar talking animal franchise Madagascar.  From its inception, Ice Age has managed to leave its impact on audiences, whether they recognize the studio by name or not, by setting the series in a unique environment that hasn’t really been touched upon in animation, putting some real star power behind the voices of its characters, and overloading every movie with family friendly humor.  So after putting their main characters through a meltdown, pitting them against dinosaurs, and being set adrift on open waters, the next thing for them to do is, apparently, deal with a mass extinction event by way of a meteor headed to Earth.  The movie does struggle to deal with a crowded cast, but it hasn’t lost sight of the Ice Age charm that audiences (and thus the studio) loves.

So many characters have been introduced over the course of the previous four movies that Collision Course decides to bring back the more popular ones while ditching those who’ve run their course (theoretically). The core group is still Manny the mammoth (Ray Romano), Diego the saber-toothed tiger (Denis Leary), Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo), and Ellie the mammoth (Queen Latifah). Sid’s Granny (Wanda Sykes, who does such a convincing job you’d wonder why she hasn’t been playing getriatric sloths her entire career), Diego’s newfound love interest Shira (Jennifer Lopez), and Manny and Ellie’s daughter Peaches (Keke Palmer) are all back from the fourth movie, but Peaches’ molehog friend Louis and the other teenage mammoths are gone. Now apparently a young adult (it’s so hard to tell with cartoon mammoths), Peaches is joined by her mammoth fiance, Julian (Adam Devine).  Simon Pegg returns as the adventurous yet off-balanced weasel Buck, who was introduced in the third movie and was reduced to a cameo in the fourth.  And, as always, Scrat the squirrel remains a prominent fixture.

Ice Age: Collision CourseA meteor capable of wiping out all life on Earth drives the main story while subplots pop up at every turn.  Manny, who has been stuck in “overprotective dad” mode in the past couple films, and Ellie try to cope with the idea of letting go of Peaches, who wants to roam with Julian after they get married.  Then there’s the evil Dino-Birds that followed Buck from the center of the earth and want to eat him.  And Sid being heartbroken over a recent break-up.  And Diego and Shira debating on whether or not they should have children.  All that and the ever-present side story of the bedraggled Scrat and his mission to protect his beloved acorn, this time on a space ship above the Earth.  While plots are resolved, they aren’t given the development they deserve and most of them don’t have much weight.  If you can predict how Manny reacts to Peaches as a teenager in Continental Drift, you can just as easily predict the story beats he goes through when his daughter is getting married in Collision Course.  Extra characters are distracting, and you have to wonder if characters like the possums Crash and Eddie are really necessary to do stupid things and say random stuff when Sid is also there to do stupid things and say random stuff.  The background characters who live in the society with the main characters serve little function and quickly disappear when the story gets started, and the first half of the movie can’t seem to be able to make up its mind as to whether Granny is traveling with the group or not.  Plus there’s more new characters introduced, which would be fine if they were fleshed out and had unique situations.  However, aside from Peaches, we haven’t really been introduced to a new characters in any Ice Age sequel who isn’t a walking punchline or has a shallow and forgettable story.

Ice Age: Collision CourseThat’s not to say Ice Age: Collision Course doesn’t have things going for it.  The world still looks amazing, this time around adding electrical meteor effects and gravity defying crystals to the frozen forest landscape.  I’ve also always been impressed by the character designs and varied textures in these movies.  Shaggy mammoth characters stand alongside short-haired animals, and now, there are Dino-Birds that have scales and feathers.  Ice Age movies always have a lot of action, and with the return of Buck, we see high-flying moves and daring escapes accompanied by his own rendition of “Largo al factotum” from The Barber of Seville.  And, of course, Ice Age never forgets to be funny.  Scrat’s antics hearken back to the days of simple chase cartoons, and while his plot barely intersects with that of the main story, maybe the reason why he’s so memorable and keeps coming back movie after movie is that most big budget theatrical animated movies today don’t take the time to use this kind of classic cartoon humor.

Ice Age revels in its silliness, this time going so far as to bring in Neil DeGrasse Tyson to speculate what caused the planets to form while Scrat flies around in a spaceship in the background wrecking the cosmos.  Gone are the original movie’s more realistic down-to-Earth sensibilities.  It leans on rapid fire humor at the expense of a strong believable world and tends to become wildly scientifically inaccurate and horribly anachronistic for the sake of a gag, but that is the absurdity of Ice Age humor at this point.  So while Blue Sky could stand to diversify its output and there’s nothing necessarily new and groundbreaking about this fifth installment, fans of the previous Ice Age sequels will like this one.

Ice Age: Collision Course opens July 22, 2016.