Ice Age: Special Edition
Fox Home Video
Starring the voices of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo,
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Review by Betsy Bozdech
Conspiracy Theorists, Take Note!
Take a look at the track record of animated movies over the last few years and you'll notice a trend that suggests a somewhat alarming theory: Perhaps computers are taking over the world, and they're starting with kiddie pictures! How else to explain the phenomenal success of virtually every computer-animated family flick to hit the multiplex since Toy Story first went to infinity and beyond in 1995? Maybe all those Dells and iBooks (inspired by the movement's founders over at Pixar) are indoctrinating the next generation while they're young, priming them to place computers before movies, TV, and video games in the entertainment hierarchy after that, world domination would be a snap.
Certainly some sort of higher intelligence is responsible, because nowhere else in Hollywood is this kind of creative (forgive the term) synergy taking place: Even the snazziest digital graphics wouldn't mean much without compelling stories, sympathetic characters, and snappy dialogue (Final Fantasy, take note). Between rendering sessions, all those cables and pixels must have been taking a few screenwriting classes.
A Movie Any Mammal Could Love
Really, though, who cares who's responsible? As long as they keep turning out kid-AND-adult-friendly movies like Shrek, Monsters, Inc., the aforementioned Toy Story (as well as its outstanding sequel), and now Ice Age a poignantly funny story about three unlikely furry companions who team up to reunite a human toddler with his tribe no one's going to complain.
The "Three Ice Age Mammals and a Baby"-esque story gets going when clumsy, fast-talking sloth Sid (voiced by John Leguizamo) gloms on to grumpy mammoth Manny (Ray Romano) despite the bigger animal's objections (much as Eddie Murphy's motor-mouthed Donkey did to Mike Myers' anti-social ogre in Shrek). Before Manny can ditch Sid, the odd couple rescues a baby who's been separated from his tribe. When they decide to return him to the others, they acquire another companion: Diego (Denis Leary), one of the pack of saber-toothed tigers who attacked the human camp in an attempt to grab the baby for demanding leader Soto (ER's Goran Visnijic). Diego "generously" offers to lead Manny and Sid to the humans, all the while planning an ambush for partway through the trek. But even Diego's toughness can't stand up to Manny and Sid's odd brand of friendship and loyalty, and the big cat is soon torn between his old pack and his new herd.
It's really a rather dramatic plot, so it's a good thing screenwriters Michael Berg, Michael J. Wilson, and Peter Ackerman managed to cram so many jokes into the script. Between Sid's earnest mugging (even John Ritter could take pratfall tips from this sloth), Manny's dry one-liners, and set pieces like the group's encounter with a pack of crazed, cultish Dodos, Ice Age is one of the funniest movies of 2002, animated or no. The film's most inspired running gag centers on twitchy rodent Scrat, a squirrelish creature whose desperate attempts to bury his precious acorn reminiscent of Wile E. Coyote's never-ending pursuit of the Roadrunner are nothing short of hilarious.
Almost incidentally, Ice Age is also stylishly and beautifully animated, combining sharp, purposely simple backgrounds with incredible detail on the main characters: Manny's eyes shine, Sid waddles convincingly, and Diego's muscles ripple every time he moves. Director Chris Wedge and his crew at Blue Sky studios have really come out swinging; watching a film like this is a treat visually and emotionally. Someone give the computers a multi-picture contract (and a small country to run)....
A DVD Worth Freezing Your Tail For
Looking at the DVDs currently on the market (particularly Pixar's Toy Story box set and the more recent Monsters, Inc. twofer), it would seem that the folks who put out discs for computer-animated movies are in a one-upsmanship contest with no end in sight. Jam-packed with featurettes, production sketches, animation tests, and lots of other digital goodies, each new DVD tries to add another bell, another whistle. And while the two-disc Ice Age special edition doesn't quite clobber the competition in the "X hours of extra fun!" department, it's a quality set with bells and whistles to spare. Here's how it breaks down:
Give this disc a spin, and your first choice is which version of the film you want to watch: the 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer, or the full-screen edition. Although the choice is obvious (widescreen all the way, baby!), both versions offer gorgeous transfers the images are crisp and clear, the colors are bright, and the details practically jump off the screen. Audio-wise, the default is a lovely English 5.1 Dolby Surround track; you can also opt for French or Spanish 2.0 Surround and English or Spanish subtitles.
Most of the special features are reserved for Disc Two, but the first platter does offer the THX optimizer tool; a straightforward, informative commentary by Wedge and co-director Carlos Saldanha; and three full-screen interactive games: Hide and Eek (help Scrat find his acorn), Frozen Pairs (animal matching game), and Playing Darwin (create-your-own-species body part mix-and-match game). Unfortunately, all three are pretty lame the only people who might get more than five minutes' entertainment out of them are toddlers roughly the age of the baby in the film. Much better are "Sid Shreds" and "Dodo Ball," the disc's two DVD-ROM games (which, in an unusual move, are accessible through PCs and Macs). Other DVD-ROM features include a printable mobile, a 2003 calendar, paper dolls, a board game, cut-out snowflakes, a make-it-yourself theater, and an activity book.
Pop this in your player for the saber-toothed tiger's share of Ice Age's digital treats. Highlights include Wedge's touching 1998 Oscar-winning short film "Bunny" (with optional commentary), a brand-new Scrat cartoon (appropriately titled "Gone Nutty") that's just as funny as his big-screen antics, three short Scrat-themed Fox promos, and an Easter egg blooper reel. The rest of the disc has plenty to offer, too:
- Sid on Sid: Leguizamo lends his lispy comic tones to this three-minute first-sloth look at some of Sid's big scenes particularly his run-in with the Dodos. "This all came out of an improv," he notes, watching the batty birds go at it, adding that he did his own stunt work and had to file a workman's comp claim after his big fall. It's funny stuff.
- Deleted Scenes: Since so much planning and preparation goes into each shot in an animated movie, it's rare that they have true "deleted scenes." Ice Age is an exception here you'll find five virtually big-screen ready shots (plus one more that's not). Most involve a she-sloth named Sylvia, a character who was cut at the last minute because the filmmakers thought she was slowing down the story. Interestingly, elements from almost all of the cut scenes did make it into the final edit, just in different contexts. Commentary and French and Spanish dubbing are available for all six scenes.
- Animation Progression: Almost a standard feature on DVDs for computer-animated movies, this section offers a multi-angled look at three sequences from the film. Toggle between storyboards, 3D layout, un-rendered animation, the final render, and a composite shot that includes all four angles on one screen.
- Under the Ice: This is where the disc's meat and potatoes (aka "production featurettes") are filed away. First up is "The Making of Ice Age," a seven-part, 27-minute look at everything from voice acting to modeling and storyboards (the only thing it's missing is a "play all" feature!). Then comes "Behind the Scenes of Ice Age," a standard-issue HBO First Look special hosted by Romano, followed by the three-and-a-half minute "Sid Voice Development" featurette. One of the disc's most interesting features, it offers clips of some of the 30 voices Leguizamo submitted to Wedge as possibilities for Sid including a whiny tough guy, a fast-talking scam artist, and one that sounds suspiciously like Peter Lorre. Rounding out this section are six short segments (none is much more than a minute long, and all are composed of still pictures and film clips accompanied by voice-overs) that go into characterization, rigging, lighting, and effects.
Overall, it's a great collection of quality extras. The only features that probably won't inspire too many "oohs" and "ahhs" are the collection of trailers (three for Ice Age, one for Like Mike); the "International Ice Age" featurette, which offers a sample of what Sid, Manny, and Diego sounded like in Italian, Swedish, Greek, Cantonese, and other languages; and the design galleries. The size comparison/species information section is interesting, but the "Create Your Own Gallery" gateway to the vast collection of production sketches is needlessly complicated.
- Anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) and full-screen versions
- Single-sided, dual-layered disc (SS-DL)
- Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby 2.0 Surround (Spanish, French)
- English and Spanish subtitles
- Commentary by director Chris Wedge and co-director Carlos Saldanha
- THX Optimizer
- Three interactive games (Hide and Eek, Frozen Pairs, Playing Darwin)
- DVD-ROM features (two games, seven printable activities)
- "Bunny" animated short
- "Gone Nutty" Scrat animated short
- Deleted scenes with optional commentary and French and Spanish dubbing
- Design galleries
- International dubbing featurette
- "Sid on Sid" featurette
- Multi-angle animation progression
- Three Scrat advertising promos
- The Making of Ice Age
- Behind-the-Scenes of Ice Age (HBO First Look)
- Sid Voice Development featurette
- Six short production featurettes (Using 2D in a 3D World, Making a Character, Art of Rigging, Animators Acting, Lighting and Materials, Art of Effects)
- Blooper reel Easter egg
- Dual-DVD slimline keep-case
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