I’m “biast” (con): really hate this series
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
Manny the Mammoth is back! In this Very Special Episode of Ice Age, Manny gets exasperated by the fact that his wife, Ellie, and daughter, Peaches, are independent creatures with minds of their own: “Women! I don’t get ’em!” he exclaims [insert laugh-track clip of a 1967 studio audience roaring]. Watch what happens when Manny forgets his wedding anniversary — he’s gonna be in trouble with the missus! [studio audience groans dramatically] And then there’s Peaches’ upcoming wedding to loveable doofus Julian. [studio audience: “awwwww!”] Is it the end of Manny’s world now that his little girl is officially all grown up? It just might be… what with that massive asteroid heading straight for planet Earth! What’s a father to do?! [roars of laughter]
That is the actual plot of Ice Age: Collision Course, the fifth cinematic outing — may the gods have mercy on us — for this franchise. And rarely has the word franchise been more apropos for a movie series: the Ice Age flicks are the cinematic equivalent of drive-through nuggets of reconstituted chicken slurry served by a bored teenager in a cardboard hat. Unlike fast food, however, little attempt has been made to cover up the plastic taste with delicious artificial flavors and colors. And yet this seems to matter not. The previous Ice Age movie, 2012’s Continental Drift, was cheap, stupid, and preposterous, but still it made $877 million, down only slightly from the takings of the third movie, Dawn of the Dinosaurs (also cheap, stupid, and preposterous), at $886 million. That’s just counting box-office takings, not proceeds from the sale of Ice Age plush toys, snowglobes, water guns(?), pajamas, coloring books, and all the other branded crap. Nor does it include ticket sales to Ice Age Live, one of those kiddie theater spectaculars that put desperate actors in furry suits and force them to wave maniacally at screaming children hopped up on cotton candy and Pepsi. (Ice Age on Ice — I shit you not — is coming to North American arenas near you starting this August. Be afraid.)
The Ice Age series is everything that is wrong with contemporary studio filmmaking. It is the triumph of the bland, the safe, the backward-looking, the unchallenging, the inoffensive. Except it is offensive. These are allegedly movies for children, yet the primary themes of every film surround Manny the Mammoth (the voice of Ray Romano: Funny People, Eulogy) and his midcentury-sitcom-dad idiocy. Is the idea that Manny is some sort of charming everyman hero something we want our children taking onboard? (Where are all the dads, forced to endure these movies with their kids, crying out about this portrait of a husband and father as an incompetent manchild? Once again, it falls to a feminist to point out that “traditional” gender roles are insulting to and stifling for men, too.) Do we want our children to internalize the ideas that women — such as Ellie (the voice of Queen Latifah: 22 Jump Street, Just Wright), Peaches (the voice of Keke Palmer: Akeelah and the Bee, Barbershop 2: Back in Business), and new character hippie sloth Brooke (the voice of Jessie J) — must be nothing more than sweet, kind, and patiently longsuffering in the face of male inadequacy, and that men — including Manny, Sid the Sloth (the voice of John Leguizamo: Sisters, American Ultra), and Peaches’ fiancé Julian (the voice of Adam Devine: The Intern, Pitch Perfect 2) — actually deserve such pliant and adoring partners?
Then again, considering the fact that the two directors — Galen T. Chu and Mike Thurmeier (an Ice Age vet) — and four writers — Michael J. Wilson (Shark Tale, The Tuxedo), Michael Berg (another Ice Age vet), Yoni Brenner (Rio 2), and Aubrey Solomon — here are all men, perhaps they do want to perpetuate that disparity.
Escape from the desperate insistence on 1950s sitcom values comes, as is the case in all the Ice Age flicks, solely from the marvelously Looney Tunes-esque shenanigans of the Scrat (the squeaks and squeals of Chris Wedge: Robots), the prehistoric squirrel-rat creature on a neverending quest to secure a hiding place for his beloved acorn. With no attempt to draw significance or “a lesson” from it, the utter absurdity of his misadventures exists on an entirely different fictional plane… so while they are great good fun, they do seem to belong to another sort of movie (or just on their own as a short). Because the Scrat is so much in his own cartoon world — adherence to tradition here is much more welcome — the nonsense that jump-starts the overall story here is beyond criticism: he accidentally launches himself into space in an alien spaceship he discovers buried in the ice, and later inadvertently sets that giant asteroid on a course for Earth. It is jolly manic folly, and the only truly enjoyable aspect of the movie.
Best that the Scrat’s mishap had been left on its own. Because how Manny and Co. decide they will avert this disaster — of course a bunch of prehistoric animals could accomplish something that 21st-century humanity wouldn’t be able to manage — involves a thin, almost nonexistent plot and a whole lotta ridiculousness that simply does not sit comfortably next to Manny fretting about his daughter’s upcoming wedding. That these two events should inspire the same quality of panic in Manny — and should supposedly engage us to equal degrees — represents an incompetence on a basic storytelling level that is astonishing.
In my review of the previous film, Continental Drift, I hoped that Ice Age 5 would be subtitled Mass Extinction. If only.