Ice Age

Gen X review of Ice AgeThe new computer-animated film Ice Age is surreal, funny and wonderfully weird – and it’s not just for kids.

The film predictably takes place just before the last ice age, when huge herds of creatures lumbered, slithered, crept and skittered on the Earth. Life is tough in this thing-eat-thing world, especially for those unable to defend themselves against more ferocious beasts.

When fast-talking sloth Sid (John Leguizamo) unwittingly antagonizes a pair of rhinos, he tries to hide behind a wholly mammoth named Manny (Ray Romano). (Sloths, you see, are pretty annoying weasel creatures that could convince Gandhi to try a sloth-tender meal.) Manny doesn’t want anything to do with Sid, but when the pair discover a baby human child, they decide to slick together long enough to get the infant back to his or her father.

Unfortunately a pack of saber-tooth tigers have taken a dislike to humans and their leader sends his right-claw man, Diego (Denis Leary), to retrieve the child from Manny and Sid. Diego is clever enough to know he’s no match for Manny and bides his time while trying to convince the mammoth and sloth to accept him as a friend.

The unlikely group begins to bond as they face peril after peril along the frozen wasteland. Accompanying them – as a prolonged teaser – is Scrat, a kind of emaciated-looking squirrel thing who tries to protect one lone acorn from being destroyed or stolen. The Scrat storyline is very funny and I would have enjoyed an entire feature based on this character.

The computer animation is good enough to make you forget the army of pasty-faced tech-heads who put it all together. The animals are expressive without being overly exaggerated (with the exception of Scrat, who embodies tortured frustration and angst) and although the humans are a tad too blocky, the little baby is less irritatingly cute than “Boo” the seamless cliché from Monster, Inc.

The moral message doesn’t interfere too much with the story, thank Zeus. There’s nothing worse than being lectured by a computer-generated simulacrum about the value of human life.   
The ethical focus of Ice Age is diversity. In a world of startling difference, animals, like people, tend to cluster in packs or herds that exclude those not like them. The film presents two ways of envisioning the group and then suggests a utopian third.

A pack feeds off of other groups, devours others for food or simply kills them for pleasure. Diego’s pack is brutal and heartless, a representation of gang culture with its cronyism and macho posturing. Focused by a despotic leader, it is dangerously exclusionary, killing anything that is not part of the group: A thing is a friend or food and there’s no gray area separating these categories.

The migrational herd, on the other hand, is so large, with so many different species, that difference ceases to matter. The characters are lost in the migration of dinosaurs, their unique identities erased by the sheer vastness of the population. The goal of Ice Age is to create a new model of group dynamic that allows difference while embracing the uniqueness of the individual.   

The new herd rejects the bloodthirstiness of the wolf-pack (and its tooth and claw philosophy) as well as the indifference of the migrational herd, where small animals are trampled, bullied or left behind indiscriminately. Manny’s herd is like a family, where difference is accepted as a natural component of individualism. “We’re the strangest herd I’ve ever seen,” Sid says, but he would have it no other way.

Like Shriek, Ice Age isn’t afraid to play on adults’ understanding of contemporary issues. Some of the dinosaur pair bonds are clearly “nontraditional” and characters discuss Veganism, homosexuality and single-mom as though they were meeting at a single’s club. “All the sensitive guys gets eats,” quips one hair-tree sloth to another as Sid turns his back at a mud salon. Later they discuss how difficult it is to find a male sloth that likes children.

The film’s hip ‘90s sensibilities jive well with its weird aesthetic. Ice Age evokes the same kind of irrational emotional reaction as a good Roadrunner cartoon. It’s difficult not to recall Willey E Coyote’s as poor Scrat rushes thorough an endless expanse of frozen tundra chasing the elusive acorn. The world is unpredictable, even hostile, and Scrat is just lucky ACME safes won’t be invented for another 20 thousand years or so.

Ah, the Poor Scrat thing: Tortured, desperate, a fetishist of mythic proportions. The one thing he wants is the only thing that is absolutely forbidden him – Safety. He doesn’t want to eat the acorn, he wants to protect it and keep it safe. The object represents competition to the wretched creature – it is the world in genesis form, pure potential.

This is why it’s such a hoot when he’s unable to keep hold of it. We’ve all felt that goofy, stupid, unreasonable hunger for things that are, after all, just silly baubles.

Ice Age will appeal to both adults and children. Kids, like the stinky, fidgety, loud one abandoned next to me, will howl at the poor Scrat as it’s frozen in a block of ice, inches from his precious acorn. Adults, like me, will wax philosophical about the Freudian meaning of the acorn and then howl at the Scrat’s poor misfortune with a stupid Homer Simpson voice, “Bwah, look at his eyes! Hehehe! He really wants that acorn!”

What greater recommendation can a reviewer give?


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