Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs Review

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs has been something of a guilty pleasure of mine since its release in 2009. It’s no great film by any stretch of the imagination, but why would it be? It was the third entry in a franchise that was only ever decent to begin with. On the plus side, it seems like Blue Sky Studios was aware that this was never a series that would rival the likes of  Toy Story in terms of emotional depth, so they just went in the “fun” direction. Though it’s a flawed film,  Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs does succeed in being an enjoyable romp, and certainly a step up from the largely forgettable second entry in the series.

From the get-go, it’s obvious that Blue Sky Studios had stopped trying to make the Ice Age films into animated classics and doubled down on cartoonish silliness. This time, the animal heroes find themselves on an adventure through a subterranean realm where the dinosaurs never went extinct.

The film begins when Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo) finds three giant eggs in an underground cavern. Thinking the eggs were abandoned, Sid decides to take them as his own. It turns out these are tyrannosaurus eggs, and once they hatch, the babies start running amok among all the ice age creatures. That is until their mother shows up and takes the babies back to the underground dinosaur world. But the babies have grown fond of Sid, so the tyrannosaurus mother reluctantly takes him along as well. Sid’s mammoth friends Manny (Ray Ramano) and Ellie (Queen Latifah), along with Diego the sabertooth tiger (Denis Leary), and Ellie’s opossum brothers Crash and Eddie (Sean William Scott and Josh Peck), set out on a rescue mission to bring Sid home.

It’s as simple of a plot as it gets, but there are token attempts at bringing some added drama to the mix. Manny and Ellie are expecting a baby, Diego fears he’s lost his edge as a hunter, and of course Sid’s relationship with the baby dinosaurs. It’s silly and simple, and little more than a means to dress up what is a tried-and-true adventure story, but it’s fun.

As is the case with every Ice Age installment, there’s a running side story in the film about Scrat the squirrel chasing an ever-elusive acorn. Only this time, Scrat has some competition in the form of a female flying squirrel named Scratte, with the rivalry between the two squirrels developing into a romance.

The best part of the film, however, is a weasel named Buck (Simon Pegg), whose years spent in the dinosaur realm have left him a little cooky, and who serves as the groups’ escort in the dangerous dinosaur world.

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs also has appropriately fun animation to compliment it all. It’s not among the most visually striking animated features, but the character designs are fun, with the dinosaurs in particular adding more variety and color into the mix, and the change in setting helping the film stand out among the other installments in the ongoing series.

It’s true, many of the problems with the series are still in full force here. Primarily, there are just too many characters for the short running time to know what to do with, and many of the character arcs feel tacked on and rushed because of it (this is especially true for Diego). But y’know, this is a movie about a couple of mammoths, a sabertooth tiger and a weasel trying to save a sloth from dinosaurs, with a squirrel romance thrown into the mix. It’s not exactly trying to tell a groundbreaking story.

In the end, Ice Age 3 is definitely Ice Age 3. But hey, it has fun action scenes, solid animation, is actually pretty funny at times, and is a pretty fun ride. If you’re looking for something more, look elsewhere. Though honestly, you could do a whole lot worse than Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs.

 

5

Ice Age Review

Ice Age

Ice Age was the first motion picture by Blue Sky Studios. Released in 2002, Ice Age hit theaters when the boom of CG animated films was still in its early years. Blue Sky looked to make a name for themselves alongside the likes of Pixar and Dreamworks – and although Ice Age can’t go toe-to-toe with the better works of Dreamworks, let alone Pixar – Ice Age did succeed in putting the studio on the map, while simultaneously creating one of the most lucrative animated franchises in the world.

Ice Age tells the story of three animal heroes during, you guessed it, an ice age. Manny (Ray Romano) is a ill-tempered mammoth, Sid (John Leguizamo) is a sloth who’s bumbling and comedic, and Diego (Denis Leary) is a saber-toothed tiger with ulterior motives. Meanwhile, a sub-plot involving a squirrel named Scrat takes place, providing some slapstick and nonsense as he tries to store an acorn for the ice age.

Manny is a bit of a loner, drifting from herd to herd as he simply tries to get by in life. He meets up with Sid, whose persistent quest to become Manny’s best friend annoys the mammoth in a way not unlike the relationship between Shrek and Donkey.

During their ventures, Manny and Sid come across a human baby, whose mother saved him from an attack by a pack of saber-toothed tigers. Manny and Sid decide to take the baby back to his home, and meet up with Diego, who becomes the guide of the group. Unknown to Manny and Sid, Diego is from the pack that attacked the humans, and has been tasked with retrieving the baby, planning on leading Manny and Sid to an ambush by his pack.

Ice AgeIt’s a very simple “buddy movie” plot, mixed in with a little adventure. Even back in 2002 it felt far from original (along with the Shrek/Donkey dynamic of Manny and Sid, the whole “returning a kid to their home” setup felt ripped right out of Monsters, Inc.). But Ice Age does provide some decent entertainment, and even has a little bit of heart to it (something its small army of sequels sorely lack).

The animation has admittedly dated a bit. CG animated films have only really captured a fluidity and timeless quality comparable to traditional animation in recent years, so in terms of the technical power behind the visuals, Ice Age can’t hold up. With that said, the character designs are still fun to look at, with Sid and Scrat being particularly memorable for simply being funny from a visual standpoint (the humans are less convincing, however, which might explain why the sequels left them out of the equation).

Really, there’s not a whole lot to Ice Age. On the plus side, that also means there’s not much to complain about. It may not be anything special, but there’s also nothing particularly horrible about it. The simple plot and characters work well enough, and make for a fun, if uneventful film. It’s sequels may be struggling to to live up to the original, but the first Ice Age is a charming piece of entertainment. If nothing else.

 

6

Rio 2 Review

Rio 2

2014’s Rio 2 was an interesting entry in Blue Sky Studio’s animated output. Up until that point, Ice Age was the only one of their films to spawn a franchise with multiple entries. The Ice Age sequels haven’t been particularly memorable, but just how did Rio’s second outing fare?

Well, the short answer is that Rio 2 probably stands on its own better than most of the seemingly endless Ice Age sequels, but it still falls short of its predecessor. Rio 2 isn’t a bad movie, but it is overly familiar, and a bit overstuffed.

The story here is that the rare blue Spix’s macaws Blu (Jessie Eisenberg) and Jewel (Anne Hathaway), believed to be the last of their kind in the first film, have now started a family, with three children named Carla, Tiago and Bia. The macaw family lives peacefully in their bird sanctuary in Rio de Janeiro, owned by Blu’s former owner Linda (Leslie Mann) and Tulio, who are now married.

Admittedly, the film gets off to a pretty good start, with the plot involving Linda and Tulio finding signs of other blue Spix’s macaws living in the Amazon during an exhibition, and seek to find further proof of the species in order to help preserve them and their habitat. Jewel is also eager to find more of her species, and convinces Blu and their children to come along as they fly to the Amazon (Blu uses one of Linda’s GPSs, which he carries via fanny pack).

It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that more blue Spix’s macaws are indeed found, but they are found by Blu and Jewel, as the macaws don’t trust humans and wish to hide away. This tribe of macaws is lead by Eduardo (Andy Garcia), who as it turns out is Jewel’s father. As you might expect, Blu and Eduardo often butt heads, seeing as Blu spent 15 years as the pet of a human.

Meanwhile, trouble is brewing in the Amazon, as an illegal logging operation threatens the blue Spix’s macaws habitat, and Blu’s family is unknowingly stalked  by Nigel (Jemaine Clement), the antagonistic cockatoo from the first film who is now flightless, due to the events of that film’s finale.

The setup for everything works well enough, but problems arise when it quickly becomes apparent that there’s just too much going on. Basically all of the side characters from the first Rio manage to find their way into the sequel, and even more new characters are introduced, leading to a small army of subplots that often break the flow of the film.

Rio 2Rio 2 still features a few catchy songs (though like in the first film, they are strangely spread out), and some of the new characters work (Nigel is now accompanied by a poison dart frog who is in love with him, as well as a Chaplin-esque anteater. And Nigel himself seems more comical this time around). The animation is as colorful as ever, with the Amazon setting proving to be a ripe opportunity to dabble in lush scenery and fun animal character designs.

But Rio 2 ultimately stumbles for recycling far too many elements from the first film at the expense of any meaningful differences, and for simply having too much going on than its running time can handle. Some of the new characters (such as a macaw named Roberto, an old flame of Jewel’s and somewhat-rival to Blu) seem completely unnecessary and only detract from the plot. Then we have so many subplots going on that they get lost in the shuffle. The film bounces back and forth between so many different goings-on, that there’s probably just as much filler in the film as there is actual story.

With all that said, I didn’t hate Rio 2. It’s a decent enough film for younger audiences, but it falls into the old sequel trap of wanting more of everything while also calling back to its predecessor that it would probably fail to captivate the older crowd. It could be a lot worse, but it doesn’t even quite reach the same heights as the first Rio, let alone better it.

 

5

Rio Review

Rio

2011’s Rio is one of the many animated features from Blue Sky Studios. Blue Sky isn’t exactly known for telling particularly original or daring animated stories (especially if compared to the likes of Pixar), but they have made more than a few fun features, and Rio is one of them. It may not be spectacular, but Rio provides some good entertainment.

The hero of Rio is a blue macaw named Blu (Jesse Eisenberg). Though Blu was born in Brazil, he was taken by smugglers as a chick before he could learn how to fly. Thankfully, Blu is rescued from the smugglers, and ends up as the pet of a spunky librarian named Linda (Leslie Mann), who lives in Minnesota.

Blu lives a happy life with Linda, though being a pampered pet, he still never gets around to learning how to fly. But Blu’s life is thrown a curveball when a Brazilian ornithologist named Tulio comes to town, and informs Linda that he has tracked down Blu, as he is the last known male blue macaw. Tulio’s aviary in Rio de Janeiro houses one of the few remaining female blue macaws, so Linda and Tulio come to an agreement to bring Blu to the aviary so that he can mate with the female and preserve their species.

When Blu meets his would-be mate, Jewel (Anne Hathaway), it turns out that love is a lot harder than simply being paired up together. Jewel is determined to escape from the aviary, and wants nothing to do with humans, or Blu. But things are made more complicated when a band of smugglers, along with their dastardly cockatoo Nigel (Jemaine Clement), kidnap Blu and Jewel from the aviary. Though Blu and Jewel manage to escape, they are chained together, with Blu’s inability to fly proving to be a recurring dilemma.

Thus, Blu and Jewel set out to find a way to break the chain, with Blu hoping to get back to Linda and Jewel wishing to return to the wild. Meanwhile, Linda and Tulio are out searching for the bird duo, as are Nigel and the smugglers.

RioIt’s a very simple, basic plot, and it shouldn’t be too difficult to predict where it ends up, but it provides some solid fun. That’s really all this movie is trying to be, fun. It doesn’t attempt to tell a deep story, and it doesn’t really boast the usual messages in its narrative like most animated family films (except perhaps overcoming your fears, which comes into play with Blu’s flight problems). But if you’re just looking to watch an animated film that provides some good entertainment value, you could do a lot worse than Rio.

The voice work is also pretty well done from the actors, and there are even some fun musical numbers in the film (though their sparseness is questionable. If you’re gunning to make an animated musical you should just go all out with it). But perhaps the best highlight of the film is the animation itself.

RioRio is a vibrantly colorful movie, and it does a great job at combining cartoonish and realistic elements in its setting and environments. The character designs are also pleasing, with the various birds (and other animals) once again successfully replicating their real world counterparts while also being exaggeratedly animated. Even the human characters (often a more tricky subject) stand out for being more caricatured, instead of replicating realistic traits, thus avoiding any creepy “fake” qualities that often arise when trying to animate characters too realistically.

In the end, Rio is not the movie to turn to when you’re looking for an animated classic, but it is the kind of movie both kids or adults could watch and be entertained by it. What it lacks in depth and originality it makes up for with beautiful animation and a well-paced plot.

 

6

Robots (2005) Review

Robots

Blue Sky Studios has a tendency to make three different kinds of animated films: The first category is the visually impressive features that sadly feel all too familiar and safe in terms of story and characters (such was the case with the first Ice Age film). The second category is the cheap cash-grabs that primarily consist of the small army of Ice Age sequels. And the third category is The Peanuts Movie, which is so far the only Blue Sky Studios film that I feel is a genuinely wonderful animated treat.

2005’s Robots falls into the first category.

I don’t wish to sound too hard on Blue Sky’s non-Peanuts related works, since some of them – including Robots – are enjoyable enough. It’s just that the studio is all too conservative when it comes to developing their stories and fleshing out their characters. The Studio’s first feature, Ice Age, was so straightforward and by-the-books that it could be considered the most “adequate” animated film ever. Not bad, but nothing special or particularly memorable either. Their follow-up feature, Robots, isn’t too far behind in the adequate department, with some unique ideas for its entirely robot world being drowned in generic plotting.

Robots begins with the “birth” of Rodney Copperbottom (Ewan McGregor), whose parents put him together after he is literally delivered to their home. As he gets older, Rodney’s parents can only afford to get their son hand-me-down spare parts from his relatives. This disappoints Rodney, but he doesn’t complain too much, since he knows his parents are trying their best with what they have (his father is a dishwasher…in the most literal sense).

Rodney’s family – as well as a good portion of the robot population – idolize a robot named Bigweld (Mel Brooks), a Walt Disney-esque archetype (complete with his own TV series a la Wonderful World of Disney) who runs the robot world’s leading company in spare part and upgrade manufacturing.

Bigweld welcomes any inventor and creative idea to give them a chance to shine, so Rodney sets out to become an inventor in the same vein as Bigweld. Rodney succeeds in creating a tiny robot called “Wonder Bot” to help his dad at his job. But the Wonder Bot accidentally causes some mayhem at the job site, leaving Rodney’s father in debt and humiliating Rodney himself. Though with some encouragement from his parents, Rodney decides to follow through with his dream and present the Wonder Bot to Bigweld in his place of business in Robot City.

Does the plot sound familiar so far? If it does, it’s because it’s the plot to the vast majority of animated movies since they made the jump to CG. From the setup to the message to the cardboard, wide-eyed hero, Robots’ plot is as textbook as it gets.

RobotsThat’s not to say that there isn’t fun to be had, however, as Rodney meets a few enjoyable characters in Robot City, the best of which being Fender (the late, great Robin Williams), who serves as a great comic foil. A duo of villains – Ratchet (Greg Kinnear) has taken over Bigweld’s company in the midst of Bigweld’s disappearance from the public eye, as part of a plot concocted by his mother, Madame Gasket (Jim Broadbent) to take over Robot City and destroy every obsolete robot to boost her scrapyard business – also provide some laughs. Bigweld himself also gets some good moments to shine.

Unfortunately, other characters feel unnecessary and tacked on, which is the case for Fender’s robot buddies (of which there are a few too many). And Rodney’s love interest, a business woman loyal to Bigweld named Cappy (Halle Berry) feels like a laughably obligatory addition. She really serves no greater purpose than for Rodney to have a love interest, because that’s what movies do. She’s never even given any time for her character or her relationship with Rodney to develop properly. The movie would work just fine without her.

On the plus side, the world of the film is both visually pleasing and pretty creative. The robot designs are all varied and different, yet they all mesh together cohesively and are fun to look at. Many of the environments are appealing, and a good dose of action set pieces take advantage of the film’s mechanical nature. It’s just a fun movie to look at and observe.

RobotsOf course, this also goes back to the film’s biggest flaw; its utter reliance on the animated cliches of its day. Back in 2005, it seemed like every animated film not made by Pixar was trying to be both Toy Story and Shrek, and that’s very much the case here. The way the film’s world is introduced, and the parade of puns and gags relating to said world in the early moments of the film, can feel a bit desperate in trying to show how creative the world is. Toy Story seemed to establish the “themed” animated film sub-genre with its “world of toys” theme, and it’s all too obvious that Robots is trying to play catch up. It even squeezes in the obligatory innuendos and winks towards the adult audience that so many animated films forced on themselves in Shrek’s wake.

With all this said, Robots is a fun movie. It’s just not one that will warrant repeated viewings. Kids would probably enjoy it, and adults may enjoy looking at it when viewing it for the first time. But while the world is visually lively and Robin Williams’ vocals give the film some great energy (I would not be surprised if I found out a good deal of his lines were ad-libbed), the movie is just too formulaic to stand on its own two feet. The bland main character, excess of unnecessary characters, predictable plot and phoned-in “follow your dreams” message feel too, well, mechanical.

 

5

Ice Age: The Meltdown Review

Ice Age: The Meltdown

Ice Age: The Meltdown was the second installment in the seemingly never ending Ice Age franchise, a series that has always been more successful than its quality should merit. On the bright side, this 2006 sequel was released when the franchise still had some dignity. On the downside, it seems the series was already wrung dry were story is concerned.

The Meltdown begins sometime after the events of the first movie, and global warming has started to take effect, melting most of the icy world the characters inhabit (though it’s all largely intact in the subsequent films). The franchise’s heroes Manny the mammoth (Ray Ramano), Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo), and Diego the sabertooth tiger (Dennis Leary) have been living in a valley among other animals for some time. But with the glaciers surrounding the valley melting they have to hightail it out of there before they’re swept away in a flood.

Ice Age: The MeltdownMeanwhile, Manny comes to worry that he may be the very last mammoth, until he comes across another mammoth named Ellie (Queen Latifah), who believes herself to be an opossum like her adopted brothers Crash and Eddie. Ellie and her brothers join the three mainstays, all the while the usual side-story takes place where Scrat the squirrel goes through outlandish situations just to claim an acorn.

It’s a pretty thin plot, which kind of magnifies that this is an obligatory sequel and not a worthy one. It kind of feels like a road trip movie with a misplaced sense of urgency. There’s even a duo of prehistoric, recently thawed, sea-dwelling villains who are thrown into the mix to try to add some additional adversity, but their sporadic appearances and lack of voices mean they hardly have any presence.

Similarly, the movie has so many main characters that it doesn’t really know what to do with most of them. I’m fine with the story taking breaks to show Scrat’s antics, as his more cartoonish ventures always serve as a fun little detour to the main story. But while Manny has a budding relationship with Ellie, Sid gets a single scene’s worth of a plot in which he is kidnapped and nearly sacrificed by a tribe of mini-sloths, and Diego’s character is reduced to being defined by a fear of swimming. You know you have too many characters when the movie gives two of the franchise’s three main characters such forced and obligatory side-stories.

There are some fun action sequences (something the series is actually pretty consistent with), and even a couple of funny moments. The animation was decent in its day (even if the character designs are mostly uninspired), and though it doesn’t look too impressive by today’s standard’s, it doesn’t look bad either. Kids will probably find the movie entertaining, but there’s nothing much here for older viewers to get too invested in (unless you enjoy the fact that the characters say “ass,” “damn,” and “crap” within the first fifteen minutes).

Despite a few humorous moments and the strangely entertaining antics of Scrat, there’s just not enough story or depth to hold it all together.

 

4

Horton Hears a Who Review

Horton Hears a Who

Horton Hears a Who is the 2008 animated adaptation of the classic Dr. Seuss book of the same name. It was the first feature-length animation based on a Dr. Seuss book, as the previous two film adaptations of Seuss properties were live-action movies that left many fans sour. Horton Hears a Who proved that Dr. Seuss stories are better suited for animation, and it made for a more faithful adaptation.

The film tells the same story as the book. In a jungle called Nool, an elephant named Horton (Jim Carrey) finds a clover on the ground. Atop this clover is a small speck. Much to Horton’s surprise, his elephant ears can hear a faint voice coming from the speck. As it turns out, the speck is, in fact, its own little world. The people of this world are the microscopic Whos, who live in the city of Whoville. The mayor of Whoville is Ned McDodd (Steve Carell), who can communicate with Horton from a device on his roof.

The fragile world on this speck is now in jeopardy, as even the slightest nudge of the flower it sits on can cause massive earthquakes in Whoville, and Horton’s constant traveling can create severe changes in the weather. Horton then sets out to place the speck in a cave on Mt. Nool, the safest place in the jungle.

Horton Hears a WhoThings won’t be so easy, however. The self-appointed boss of the jungle, the aptly-titled Sour Kangaroo (Carol Burnett) resents things that go against the social norms of her jungle, and that includes animals believing that a speck could be a tiny world filled with people. Kangaroo is determined to see Horton give up his belief in this tiny world, and is even willing to have the speck destroyed to do so.

The plot is simple, but has a good message. The animation is colorful and vibrant, and brings the world of Dr. Seuss to life much better than its live-action predecessors. There’s even a segment that takes on a simplified anime look (though unfortunately, it comes with the usual mentality of anime parodies that all Japanese animations work like Speed Racer). The voice actors also bring the story up to date with a good sense of humor, though some incessant pop-culture references do clash with the nature of the original story.

Horton Hears a WhoOne questionable change to the source material is that Mayor McDodd now has 96 daughters and one son. The son ends up becoming a major character in the film, while all of the daughters are simply a recurring joke based around the sheer number of them. Dr. Seuss’ original book certainly wasn’t made exclusively for young boys, so it’s a bit of a mystery why the movie brushes aside most of its female characters (even McDodd’s wife only gets so much screen time). I’m not saying it needed to shoehorn any of the characters into bigger roles, but when all of McDodd’s daughters just add up to a big joke, while his sole son ends up playing such a pivotal role, it feels a bit thoughtless.

Overall, Horton Hears a Who is an entertaining movie that serves as a faithful recreation of a classic Dr. Seuss story. Not all of the jokes work to its benefit, with the movie being at its best when it isn’t trying to be a comedy. But it’s a fun and colorful ride that builds to a surprisingly suspenseful finale and, most importantly, it does its source material justice.

 

6