13 July 2012

The Road to a Blockbuster: Ice Age - Inconsequential Drift

It's Friday again, so needless to say, we have another weekend at the movies to assess. Every Summer Friday we've been taking a look at the possible and probable critical, commercial, and cultural impact of Hollywood's New Wide Releases. This week all we have is Ice Age: Continental Drift (2012), and much like Madagascar 3: Butt-hurter (2012), it's another installment in a series none of us can believe is still in existence.

It's tough to believe that the first Ice Age film was made 10 years ago and has since become 20th Century Fox's flagship animated property. Dreamworks had Shrek and then the Madagascar series, Disney of course has all the Pixar goodness, and Universal is finally growing something with Despicable Me bubbles, but Fox really puts its energy into Ice Age, and for good reason. It is startling similar to Madagascar - somehow each film is still good for just under $200 mill a pop, and tho Ice Age (2002) looked like shit, it tripled its budget and allowed its sequels to steadily grow and look a bit better, although they're still on the cheap, going for $80-90 million according to Box Office Mojo.

So yes, this is the fourth installment for some reason, and almost unbelievably, the creators keep thinking up stuff to do with these guys. The first film dealt with the core Mammoth, Sabretooth Tiger, and Ground Sloth finding a human baby, the second one dealt with the Ice Age ending, and the third saw our heroes trapped in the secret underground Land of Dinosaurs. Wait, the Ice Age ended in the second film? And they've made two sequels set in the Ice Age since then? This is true, that's great. Ice Age: Continental Drift deals with pirates; obviously that was the natural way to go.

There's a few really interesting things about the Ice Age franchise. First of all, it stars Ray Romano, Denis Leary, and John Leguizamo, who are all B or C-Listers in Hollywood at best, at least in terms of their movie careers. Leary may have the highest profile out of all of them, but he got there by intensely adult comic performances in things like No Cure for Cancer, The Job, and Rescue Me - yet that's all dwarfed by the cash an Ice Age film can pull down from little kids. Leguizamo is known for what, The Pest (1997) and The Happening (2008)? Maybe throw in Super Mario Bros. (1993), obviously. Finally, Ray Romano has had a Jerry Seinfeld-like career: one massive hit TV show, NOTHING ELSE and then animated voice work. It's actually startling to realise how good Ice Age looks when contrasted with Bee Movie (2007) though. These three dudes have come together for four movies now to create Fox's greatest animated franchise of all time - what the hell?

This particular Ice Age film also stars a ridiculous number of currently popular celebrity voices. Let's run down a quick list (click here for full): Jennifer Lopez, Peter Dinklage, Aziz Ansari, Joy Behar, Wanda Sykes, Nick Frost & Simon Pegg, Sean William Scott, Patrick Stewart, Queen Latifah, Nicki Minaj, and Drake. Yes, you heard those last two correctly. This film has more divas than Sean Combs' Birthday Yacht and a completely eccentric cast that would be incredible to meet at a party. Can you imagine? Patrick Stewart spiking the punch, Aziz Ansari spinning some Kanye tunes, Queen Latifah mud-wrestling with Peter Dinklage, and through it all, somehow John Leguizamo is killed. What a dream.

So how well as this insane film been advertised? The marketing has been fairly good, with them even ripping off other clearly more popular properties as can be seen above. It has lacked the incessant brain-melting catchiness of something like "Afro Circus," but that's probably a good thing. It does have the "'Taste my fury!' / 'Taste your furry what?'" thing, which is fairly sticky. All in all, it's done exactly what a fourthquel needs to do - remind us of the characters we liked, why we liked them, and shown them in a different element. There's no reason why this shouldn't be a pretty good success, even if it'll enter more of a cultural whitewash taken up by the other entries in this mediocre franchise.

The exact bank is going to be high, possibly à la the aforementioned Madagascar 3: European Shit Train, and make more money than any other before it. It's bizarre to think about. We've gotten to a point filled with Fast and Furious, Resident Evil, and Final Destination sequels that are supposed to be a "what the hell" kind of last fling that end up bringing home more cheddar than any other film in the series. There's simply no reason to stop making these kinds of films, or the Madagascar/Ice Age kind of films. There will always be a demand for stupid children's entertainment - and with a reliably entertaining and high-grossing cast of recognizable characters - why not? What's insane is that animation can go far longer than live action. Voices age slower than looks, and while Ray, Denis, and John may all be getting older, they can mouth these characters for the next twenty years while making themselves and everyone else a ton of money. Is there a breaking point? Do things get old? Hell no, eventually nostalgia kicks in and we all want another Mammoth/Tiger/Sloth story. Mammoth/Tiger/Sloth built this series and Mammoth/Tiger/Sloth will end it.

Actually, what makes these films worthwhile are the parallel stories of Scrat, the Sabre-toothed Squirrel. Scrat's tales liken back to a time of Wile E. Coyote - a hapless young mammal trying to just get his nut. They're the funniest and most interesting parts of these films, woven in and between the Mammoth/Tiger/Sloth journeys. Scratman, heed our call.

Ice Age: Continental Drift premieres today.

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