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Film

20 years of 'Ice Age': An unsightly animated stepping stone

@Russellisation

Way back at the start of the new millennium, the medium of animation was still trying to figure out how to move forward with the art form of digital filmmaking, with Toy Story having revolutionised cinema by becoming the first fully computer-animated film of all time. Despite forever transforming the filmmaking medium, few would take on the task of their own fully digital animated movie until the arrival of Dreamworks in 1998 and Blue Sky Studios in 2002.

Still very much in its infancy, digital animation carried an ugly sheen that, when compared to the stunning quality of the contemporary art form, seems like child’s play in comparison. Of course, the whole computer graphics industry was in its early stages, however, with live action films also dabbling with CGI, often to disastrous effects such as in the infamously bad sight of the Scorpion King in 2001s The Mummy Returns.

Once Dreamworks had shifted out the dated animation films Antz and The Prince of Egypt in 1998, they achieved great success with Shrek shortly after the turn of the new millennium, a film that Blue Sky tried to rival with their own film Ice Age one year later.

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With great ambitions, Ice Age was released in 2002 with a spectacle way beyond its own technical limitations, recreating a grand world of ice sheets, towering mountains and intricate prehistoric beasts. Telling the story of a woolly mammoth, a sabre-toothed tiger and a sloth who encounter a young human child whilst navigating the sub-zero world, Ice Age from directors Chris Wedge and Carlos Saldanha, takes the viewer on an impressive frenetic adventure. 

Featuring the voice work of Denis Leary, John Leguizamo, Ray Romano and Jack Black, Blue Sky threw all that they could into making their debut animation a classic, and whilst it certainly achieved success commercially, in contemporary cinema it stands as a mere reminder of how far technology has come since the 2000s. 

Without the necessary technical capabilities, Blue Sky was unable to reach the true heights of their ambitions, creating a dull world of poorly rendered characters that looks like it was made on a cheap children’s editing tool. Exposed when exploring the close-up detail of several characters including Leary’s Diego and Leguizamo’s Sid, the film is vulnerable to modern disinterest from audiences who have become too accustomed to the quality of contemporary animation. 

Who can blame them, too, as whilst Ice Age carries a certain charm as a pioneer of digital animation, it is nonetheless a stepping stone to something bigger and greater, lacking the innovative narrative of a classic such as Pixar’s Toy Story that has long defied its rudimentary animation style.

Far from a bad movie, Ice Age simply doesn’t carry the significance it once did, with the animation industry bolting like a blur in the background to achieve far superior visuals in the future. Scrat, the series’ acorn-obsessed sabre-toothed squirrel is all that remains of the series’ significance, with the 2002 film fossilising itself for contemporary viewers to admire from a distance whilst history progressively makes its existence even less aesthetically pleasing.

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