Thursday, 29 December 2016

Ice Age: Collision Course (2016) - Movie Review
The Ice Age series is little more than a relic of early-2000’s animation. Made by Blue Sky Studios, who would go on to secure their place as easily the weakest animation studio working today, the only real notable aspect of these films is how they have managed to keep a consistent decline since they started out, and bear in mind that the first film isn’t even that good to begin with. Computer graphics that have aged about as well as a puke-stain on what used to be your favourite shirt, annoying as all hell voice acting and only a couple of admittedly nice moments to help salvage it, something that would become far less prevalent in the sequels. As much as I wish I had covered this earlier on in the year when it first came out, that prospect meant re-watching all the films in the franchise so forgive me for holding it off for as long as humanly possible. But these things must be done, and it’s not as if this is even likely to be the worst film I’ve looked at recently, so let’s just get this over with.

The plot: As a result of Scrat (Chris Wedge) toying around with a spaceship, an asteroid is headed straight for Earth that could spell doom for the mammals living on the surface. After spotting it in the sky, Manny (Ray Romano) and his family along with Sid (John Leguizamo), Diego (Denis Leary) and their guide Buck (Simon Pegg) journey out to find a way to stop the asteroid.

We’ve reached a point in the series where the annoying actors haven’t improved in the slightest, the new actors have followed suit in the most misguided way possible and even those returning that were once decent distractions from the idiocy around them have now buckled down and joined in. Leguizamo is still an absolute blight on audiences as Sid, Leary tries his best but considering the traces of ebonics he’s been given this time around, I don’t think even he would be able to totally salvage this and Romano is now so buried in family dilemmas that is now contributing his own brand of irritant to the mix. Pegg is probably the only consistently watchable character here in the main group, but he’s heavily outweighed by Seann William Scott and Josh Peck as two opossums that are begging for extinction, Wanda Sykes somehow outdoing Leguizamo in the annoying stakes, Keke Palmer, Adam DeVine and Queen Latifah as the Mammoth family fun pack (warning: contents may not be as fun as advertised) and Jesse Tyler Ferguson as a character called Shangri Llama… yeah, don’t really need to add anything to that.

If I can give this series any credit at all, and trust me when I say that sitting through five of these things doesn’t put me in the most charitable of moods, I will admit that the animation quality has at least been steadily improving with each new film. It’s still nothing spectacular and the animal textures still resemble plastic more than anything, but it’s just good enough to visually keep up with the rest of the pack for what it’s worth. The plot may want to divert itself from the genuinely interesting stuff, but thankfully it does lead to some interesting prospects for the visuals that the studio has sufficient competency to deliver on. The cosmic mischief that Scrat gets up to is well-done, and the lightning storm sequence might be the single most visually interesting scene that these films have yet come up with. It shows a level of creativity that, while scientifically spurious, seems to be at odds with the film’s overall willingness to stick to what audiences might actually want to see.

I understand the mindset that goes into focusing on a family’s actions during a crisis; hell, the entire disaster film genre is built on interactions like that. However, what I fail to understand is why this series and this film in particular is so determined to focus more on basic family drama that could literally be in any film and not necessarily one featuring pre-historic animals, rather than actually using the setting to its advantage. I may not have liked Continental Drift all that much, but the whole iceberg ships/pirates aspect showed at least some willingness to play ball with the setting. Here, on the other hand? Oh no, Manny is worried again about losing his daughter, Diego teases a relationship with Shira who seems to have lost any semblance of a character that she showed previously, and Sid is still an irritating asshole; more of this please, said no-one ever.

Hell, even when the film gets its shit together and starts to have fun with its ideas, it keeps trying to shoehorn-in scientific explanations as if any of this needed to be redeemed as being scientifically plausible. The critics who isolate that part are probably doing it wrong in the first place, and this film trying to placate them like this is at odds when one of the characters is literally playing pool with planets. That, and the ultimate plan to stop the asteroid is eerily similar to the Futurama episode A Big Ball Of Garbage.

So, does this film have anything going for it on a consistent basis? Well, as always, it’s Scrat. Scrat might be the single most fascinating creation Blue Sky has ever come up with, and with each passing film he seems to have transcended being just the comic relief into this almost nature god figure with all the hubris to match. And sure enough, a lot of what happens in the main plot is down to him once again, this time in a spaceship still trying to get that nut while causing galactic chaos in his wake.

At this point, we reach easily the biggest misstep Blue Sky ever made and continues to make with these films, even greater than the notions of just making more of them in the first place: Why haven’t they just made a Scrat solo movie yet? And no, I don’t just mean the shorts that they have consistently made to show before most of their other films; I mean a feature-length story just featuring Scrat? Say what you will about Dreamworks and Illumination, but at least they had enough clarity to isolate the most popular creations in their series and turn them into their own films with Penguins Of Madagascar and Minions respectively. After seeing how well those turned out, and knowing that Blue Sky has at least some ability in producing good movies, I’m not accepting that the studio just doesn’t think that it would work. When Scrat has been the only consistently entertaining aspect of any of these films, why the hell haven’t they done the painfully obvious thing yet?

All in all, this is yet another Ice Age film: Isolating it as being better or worse than what came before it is rather pointless because it has all the same problems as the other films. The characters are obnoxious, the story claims to have a grander scope but is ultimately just a bog-standard family dysfunction comedy with animal skins stapled onto it, the comedy itself is still mesmerizing in who in the hell thought this was serviceable things for anyone to actually say and the series continues to dangle its most interesting character in front of our faces, almost teasing us at this point with how Blue Sky isn’t willing to do the smart thing and just take the best part of these films and make it its own full-sized work.

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