ANNECY — If the nine final-footage sequences sneak peeked at France’s Annecy Animation Fest on June 14 are anything to go by, in “Ice Age: Collision Course” franchise partners Blue Sky Studios and 20th Century Fox will continue to explore family dynamics. Father Manny’s faces empty nest crisis.
But this fifth time round, Blue Sky and Fox have made a sustained effort at franchise freshness, exploring new worlds, new characters and a different palette. And Scrat, an illustrious catalyst of continental cataclysm in the past, is now allowed a more than cameo role as he unwittingly hurls waves of cosmic catastrophe at the world.
Whether all this pays off, or rather how much this will pay off, will be even in a matter of only days when “Collision Course” world premieres on June 19 at the Sydney Film Festival. Certainly, the 20 minutes-or-so total excerpts of “Ice Age: Collision Course” drew hearty applause from a largely student audience at Annecy. The box office numbers of the third and fourth iterations of “Ice Age,” plus the franchise overhaul in “Collision Course” suggests the franchise is not done yet.
The Annecy presentation, showcasing a total of near-20 minutes of never-seen fully-lit footage, captured well the drive at the heart of “Ice Age” to deliver the welcomingly familiar, while being welcomingly different. Introduced by Lori Forte, producer of all the “Ice Age” movies, and MikeThurmeier, co-director of 2012’s “Ice Age: Continental Drift,” the first sequence screened at Annecy is already known from movie trailers, picking up on a passing detail in the first “Ice Age,” in which Manny, Sid and Diego stroll through an Ice Museum, and the camera pulls back to reveal a frozen spaceship.
“It was very funny. We loved the idea and always thought there was a story here, so it laid the stage for ‘Ice Age: Collision Course,’” Forte said.
Scrat, the sabre-toothed squirrel-rat, once more in epic pursuit of his acorn, unwittingly re-discovers the ship, unleashes it into space with him and the acorn on board, creates the solar system as it is now today and, still going nuts about his nut, inadvertently sends an asteroid torching towards earth.
Directed by Chris Wedge and Carlos Saldanha, 2002’s original “Ice Age” depicted the creation of an unlikely family: Woolly mammoth Manny, sloth Sid and Diego, a sabre-tooth tiger.
“The heart of all our movies is family-value themes, watching a family grow and change,” said Forte.
Not that obnoxious Sid seems to have much chance of growing his own family-tree. In one early sequence, he proposes to his girlfriend – he’s thought out everything, even down to their joint burial plot – and is rotundly dumped. A third sequence introduces a new character: Julian, Peaches’ fiancé, a goofy, loveable and very woolly mammoth, who is everything control-freak Manny is not.
Attempting to avert the asteroid, the herd travels to Geotopia, guided by “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaur’s” weasel Buck (Simon Pegg), reintroduced to the saga. The crash site of the asteroid which destroyed the dinosaurs harbours a civilisation which turns “Ice Age’s” colour scheme on its head.
“In traditional ‘Ige Age’ films, everything was blue, white and earth-coloured. The cosmos in ‘Collision Course’ is all purples and pinks, and Geotopia looks like a geode, a beautiful new environment with the colors of the rainbow,” Forte enthused.
In Geotopia, the herd meets Brooke (Jessie J), a fetching sloth, who takes an instant shine to Sid, and introduces the gang to Shangri Llama (Jesse Tyler-Ferguson), Geotopia’s so-cool spiritual leader.
In maybe the most hilarious scene seen Tuesday – up there with Sid’s bathetic marriage proposal – Scrat hits a gravity button in the spaceship and collapses on the spaceship floor, like a pile of cement.
“Ice Age: Collision Course: is about Sid, impossible as it might seem, finally finding true love. Its emotional core. however, is its theme of parents having to know how to let go,” Forte said.
“Everybody loves Scrat. Comedically, he defines ‘Ice Age’ in a lot of ways. But Manny is the heart of ‘Ice Age’ from the first film when we meet him and he lost his family,” Thurmeier added.
“Every film is a development of Manny’s life. In the first, he meets his friends and finds love; in the second, he has a daughter; in the fourth she’s just growing up, and here’s she about to move on. Manny really defines the central story.”
“Will there be another ‘Ice Age’?” an audience member asked at Annecy.
“We’ll wait and see if audiences wants more and, if they do, I have an idea,” said Forte.
She’ll almost certainly have to use it.