Ice Age: Collision Course Could Have Been Meatier But Instead It Crashes Hard
It’s time to put this animated series on the extinct species list.
Five movies in, the Ice Age franchise has clearly run out of ideas. The latest installment, Ice Age: Collision Course, actually recycles a whole sequence formerly released as a separate short film titled Cosmic Scrat-tastrophe, which played ahead of last fall’s The Peanuts Movie. That same sequence was then reused as a teaser trailer for the new Ice Age sequel back in December.
Now, following some Cosmos-parodying voiceover from Neil deGrasse Tyson, the outer-space-set sequence opens the new feature, and the rehashing is a terrible way to start off. For adult fans of the animated series, anyway. Small children will likely appreciate the familiar beginning, just as they appreciate watching the other four Ice Age movies over and over and over.
Once again, because of a cataclysm caused by the slapstick antics of every kid’s favorite acorn-obsessed saber tooth squirrel, the movie’s premise involves a migration of the series’ ensemble of prehistoric mammal characters. The only difference this time is that they’re led towards danger, to confront it, rather than away.
Woolly mammoths Manny, Ellie, and Peaches, saber tooth tigers Diego and Shira, sloths Sid and Grandma, and opossums Crash and Eddie are all back, and they’ve been joined by Peaches’s new fiancee, Julian (voiced by Adam Devine), and are quickly reunited with Buck (Simon Pegg), the popular one-eyed weasel from the third movie.
If that’s not already too many characters (it is), there are also three flying dinosaurs (led by Nick Offerman) on the group’s trail because they have a score to settle with Buck. And an hour into the movie, there’s an introduction of a whole new world of creatures, including a yoga-loving llama (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and a potential mate for Sid, the last remaining bachelor of the original’s core trio.
Keeping track of the cast sounds more exhausting than it is. Instead the problem is that the movie itself can’t adequately wrangle all the characters, or figure out what to do with them. For instance, the saber tooth tiger couple (voiced by series vets Dennis Leary and Jennifer Lopez) are probably the least essential to the story and so are constantly forgotten about. And the dinosaur antagonists barely wind up mattering to the plot.
Collision Course is also directed in a way to keep the audience mostly focused on only one or two characters at a time. For an animated feature about a journey through new terrain, including a utopian setting comprised of magical crystals, there’s rarely anything to look at on screen besides close-ups of character’s faces, the peripheral scenery usually being just a blur. Not that there’s a lot of imagination put to that scenery when it’s clearer.
There’s a sad irony to Tyson’s involvement with this franchise now – in addition to the occasional bit of narration, he also voices a weasel version of himself that exists in Buck’s mind, Inside Out style – as this sequel has the dumbest plot and situations yet, especially everything involving celestial bodies. It doesn’t help that Tyson, speaking for the movie, regularly acknowledges the science here is ridiculous. It’s more a shrug than an affirmation of purpose or reason.
Considering it has lightly tackled the issue of climate change and has had plenty of opportunities to enlighten if not educate kids on subjects such as geology, paleontology, cosmology, and other sciences, the Ice Age series remains a frustratingly antiquated kind of cartoon, not so much for its silly slapstick as for all its awful cliches, standards, and gags involving gender.
There’s still more attention put on pairing up all the male and female characters than on the adventure at hand, which doesn’t help with the crowding, and there’s another inappropriate dick joke made by the confused Sid (John Leguizamo) regarding something phallic-looking. Also, Manny (Ray Romano) forgets his wedding anniversary, because men will be men. And women will always be brought in just to be love interests for the men.
It’s been almost 15 years since the first Ice Age debuted, and this series should have evolved with age for a number of reasons, including the fact that its initial fans have grown up and might want their beloved franchise to have done the same. It also looks and plays so crudely next to almost every other animated feature released this year, some of which it will remind even the young audiences of (my four year old shouted “Zootopia!” when the llama appeared), and there’s a lot more competition in this arena now than there was in 2002, when the original could actually be an Oscar contender.
All of Hollywood Wants to Be Like Disney
Ice Age: Collision Course, like most of its franchise predecessors (including the shorts that aren’t just promos for sequels), has promising material and hints at rich ideas only to squander them for thin storytelling and character development to appeal more broadly to the lowest common denominator. Yet this time it seems to think that bar is set further down than it actually is.
As a result, the movie aims far below the surface of where it needs to land to satisfy even its most allegiant audience. The Ice Age series has itself been on a collision course for a while, but now it has finally crashed and burned.