Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Animated doldrums: Ice Age 2 and The Wild

By now, I really should be over expecting Disney's animation work to be special. It's not Walt, it's not the nine old men, heck, it's not even the nineties group of Clements & Musker and Wise & Trousedale any more. And I suspect we really can't blame Disney for the crushing mediocrity that is The Wild, other than that they agreed, at some point in development, to acquire and distiribute it. Still, the opening plays with the logo, which just re-inforces that this is Disney's.

Should we care? After all, until the buyout of Pixar, Disney proper wasn't where good feature animation was happening. The really big hits and arguably high-quality stuff was coming out of DreamWorks/PDI and Pixar, with Fox's Blue Sky making a good showing and Paramount's Nickelodeon being the name kids cared about. Meanwhile, Disney has been further diluting their good name by sticking it on mediocrities like Valiant and The Wild.

Disney's a name that has the better part of a century of history behind it, and I think many of us would like to see that continuity. As distasteful as them swallowing Pixar whole might be for those of us who are fans of Pixar but not recent Disney, it's worth remembering that Pixar's story is intimately entangled with Disney, and completely severing the two probably wouldn't have done Pixar any favors. It is, I think, remarkable, that Disney has been able to revitalize itself twice in my lifetime, even if it's unfortunate that they had to.

As to the other film reviewed here, it's familiar and Fox is probably starting work on Ice Age 3. It's worth noting that none of the writers of the first Ice Age were involved with #2, and the original primary director is apparently off doing something else - Chris Wedge was probably still working on Robots when production on this started, since these things take a fair amount of time. The collaboration between Fox and Blue Sky is certainly working out well commercially, although each film has been less exciting than the one before.

But, these movies had previews for Over The Hedge, Happy Feet and Cars. Things look to be getting better before the year is out.

Ice Age: The Meltdown

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 1 April 2006 at AMC Boston Common #2 (First-run)

The teaser for Ice Age 2 kicked around for about a year before the movie came out, and delivered pretty much everything I wanted from new "Ice Age" stuff, quite frankly: Wonderfully executed slapstick featuring Scrat, the sabertoothed squirrel-rat from the first movie who wants nothing more than to recover one of the few acorns left in the desolate landscape. There's about fifteen minutes of Scrat chasing his nut in The Meltdown, and it is by and large brilliant. The other hour-plus is more of a mixed bag.

The characters from the first movie - Scrat, Manny the mammoth (voice of Ray Romano), Sid the sloth (voice of John Leguizamo), and saber-toothed tiger Diego (voice of Denis Leary) have been living in an icy, but fairly temperate, valley. They soon discover that the dam that overlooks their home is about to burst, and soon they and the other residents are making their way to a boat that a vulture tells them is ready to take the residents of this basin to safety. On the way, they'll encounter melting icefields (Diego, like most cats, hates water and doesn't know how to swim); a crazy sloth cult; the first mammoth other than Manny that anyone has seen in a while, though Ellie (voice of Queen Latifah), however, was raised by opossums and doesn't realize she's a mammoth; and a pair of sea monsters, apparently frozen ages ago, that have thawed and are looking for fresh meat.

Read the rest at HBS.

The Wild

* * (out of four)
Seen 15 April 2006 at AMC Fenway #5 (First-run)

The last time Disney feature animation was in such doldrums, there was no DreamWorks and no Blue Sky, so people could be forgiven for assuming that there was just no interest in animation as a medium. Now, though, when we see something as disappointing as The Wild, it's after sitting through trailers for Over the Hedge and Happy Feet, which makes it seem like everyone but Disney knows what they're doing. Even if this movie is an acquisition rather than something produced in-house, Disney's darn lucky to have John Lasseter around to play the same role Clements and Musker played in the late eighties/early nineties, because this just won't do.

There was a very similar movie last year by the name of Madagascar; here, the lion that serves as the New York Zoo's star attraction is Samson (voice of Keifer Sutherland). It's his son Ryan (voice of Greg Clipes) who wants to see the wild, and he winds up on a boat back to Africa, Samson and friends - streetwise squirrel Benny (voice of James Belushi), London-raised koala Nigel (voice of Eddie Izzard), dopey snake Larry (voice of Richard Kind), and the giraffe Benny has a biologically challenging crush on, Bridget (voice of Janeane Garofalo) - must rescue him. A boat is hijacked and runs aground, and the city animals find themselves confronted by a pack of crazy jungle beasts - here, wildebeests led by Kazar (voice of William Shatner), convinced that if he turns carnivore by eating a lion, he'll be king of the jungle.

Read the rest at HBS.

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