While recent animated blockbusters have aimed to viewers of all ages starting with fantastical concepts and breathtaking visuals but tackling complex emotional issues along the way Ice Age: Continental Drift is crafted especially for the wee ones — and it works. Venturing back to prehistoric times once again the fourth Ice Age film paints broad strokes on the theme of familial relationships throwing in plenty of physical comedy along the way. The movie isn't that far off from one of the many Land Before Time direct-to-video sequels: not particularly innovative or necessary but harmless thrilling fun for anyone with a sense of humor. Unless they have a particular distaste for wooly mammoths the kids will love it.
Ice Age: Continental Drift continues to snowball its cartoon roster bringing back the original film's trio (Ray Romano as Manny the Mammoth Denis Leary as Diego the Sabertooth Tiger and John Leguizamo as Sid the Sloth) new faces acquired over the course of the franchise (Queen Latifah as Manny's wife Ellie) and a handful of new characters to spice things up everyone from Nicki Minaj as Manny's daughter Steffie to Wanda Sykes as Sid's wily grandma. The whole gang is living a pleasant existence as a herd with Manny's biggest problem being playing overbearing dad to the rebellious daughter. Teen mammoths they always want to go out and play by the waterfall! Whippersnappers.
The main thrust of the film comes when Scratch the Rat (whose silent comedy routines in the vein of Tex Avery/WB cartoons continue to be the series highlight) accidentally cracks the singular continent Pangea into the world we know today. Manny Diego and Sid find themselves stranded on an iceberg once again forced on a road trip journey of survival. The rest of the herd embarks to meet them giving Steffie time to realize the true meaning of friendship with help from her mole pal Louis (Josh Gad).
The ham-handed lessons may drag for those who've passed Kindergarten but Ice Age: Continental Drift is a lot of fun when the main gang crosses paths with a group of villainous pirates. (Back then monkeys rabbits and seals were hitting the high seas together pillaging via boat-shaped icebergs. Obviously.) Quickly Ice Age becomes an old school pirate adventure complete with maritime navigation buried treasure and sword fights. Gut (Peter Dinklage) an evil ape with a deadly... fingernail leads the evil-doers who pose an entertaining threat for the familiar bunch. Jennifer Lopez pops by as Gut's second-in-command Shira the White Tiger and the film's two cats have a chase scene that should rouse even the most apathetic adults. Hearing Dinklage (of Game of Thrones fame) belt out a pirate shanty may be worth the price of admission alone.
With solid action (that doesn't need the 3D addition) cartoony animation and gags out the wazoo Ice Age: Continental Drift is entertainment to enjoy with the whole family. Revelatory? Not quite. Until we get a feature length silent film of Scratch's acorn pursuit we may never see a "classic" Ice Age film but Continental Drift keeps it together long enough to tell a simple story with delightful flare that should hold attention spans of any length. Massive amounts of sugar not even required.
[Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox]
Animation particularly when it comes out of the Disney/Pixar stable is one of those areas of filmmaking that regularly inspires the phrase "They don't make them like they used to." In the case of Toy Story 3 however it's more accurate to say "They have never made them like this." It's certainly not unheard of for an animated film to be good for a Pixar film to be great or for the third film in a trilogy to be outstanding (though that's the rarest of the three) but in the case of Lee Unkrich's film the sheer degree at which it exceeds at all three is not just rare it's unprecedented.
Eleven years have elapsed since Woody (Tom Hanks) Buzz (Tim Allen) and all of Andy's favorite playthings had their last adventure -- rather 11 years have elapsed since Andy stopped playing with his toys. Buoyed by Woody's never-failing devotion the gang is all optimistic that Andy will elect to bring them with him to his first year of college but as that fateful empty-nest day approaches it becomes clearer and clearer that the only toy that will be making the trek to school is Woody. The rest are all by a series of unfortunate events consigned to live out their remaining days at Sunnyside daycare. Things are actually looking up for the neglected entertainers until they realize just how careless the ankle-biters are when it comes to playing with toys.
Unfortunately there is no escape in sight for the lovable personalities Pixar has been refining for over a decade. Lotso Huggin' Bear (Ned Beatty) runs a tight ship at Sunnyside; the new toys are just going to have to be sacrificed to the aggressive toddlers so the old veterans can have a relaxing time with their more mature counterparts. Eventually Woody catches wind of what kind of life his old pals are being forced to live and Toy Story 3 quite brilliantly becomes a riff on classic prison escape movies as Woody seeks to breach Lotso's security measures and bring his bunch back to Andy where they belong. And while this on-the-run chunk of the film is some of the most thrilling material Pixar has ever delivered it's also some of the most touching.
Unlike most sequels not a moment of Toy Story 3 feels artificial. There's no sense that Pixar decided to make a third film because it knew that the box office would gladly support another entry; no sense that this is a cash grab (unlike a certain green ogre's most recent trip to the big screen). All of those typical sequel pitfalls are carefully avoided by a swelling sense of finality. Toy Story 3 isn't just another adventure with these characters -- there is in fact no doubt that this is their final adventure their final hoorah together. Director Lee Unkrich and screenwriter Michael Arndt meticulously lead the audience along with bated breath the entire time culminating in a life-or-death scenario for the toys that is more heartfelt and genuine than most live-action films can ever muster.
It's astonishing how the creative team at Pixar can make you forget that what you're watching is all a bunch of digital wizardry. Maybe it's the 3D this time around maybe it's that this is the studio's most accomplished technical feat to date (there are single shots at a landfill that pack in richer detail than the entirety of the pioneering first film) that makes Toy Story 3 such an immersive experience. Or maybe it's simply because Pixar treats its property which is ostensibly for children with the utmost sincerity. The result is an overwhelming success the rare kind of film that were it a human being would be your best friend.
One could reasonably make the case that Toy Story 3 is the single best animated film ever made. I wouldn't outright agree with such grandiose claims but it's certainly not a baseless proposition that you'd be laughed at for bringing up. However with part three now tucked under Pixar's belt one could present an even better case that Toy Story is the best film trilogy ever made -- a claim I am far more comfortable signing on the dotted line for.
Another negotiating session between the Writers Guild of America and the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers was scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. today, with several news reports suggesting that a settlement could be announced by the end of the day. Speaking at an investors conference in New York, Viacom chief Sumner Redstone said that his mood about the negotiations had changed to "cautiously optimistic" from "cautiously pessimistic" a few weeks ago. However, negotiators for both sides formally maintained a strict news blackout. "It is critical at this stage in the negotiations that the discussions remain in the room rather than negotiated through the media," WGA spokeswoman Cheryl Rhoden said Thursday. Barry Liden, a spokesman for the producers, said only, "I think both parties are interested in trying to reach a settlement as soon as possible."
TINA BECOMES $1-MILLION SURVIVOR
Defying Las Vegas oddsmakers, Tina Wesson won the $1-million top prize Thursday on Survivor: The Australian Outback. Favorite Colby Donaldson received the $100,000 "consolation prize." Although a great show was made of the fact that the final ballots were placed under guard and flown to Los Angeles, where they were not opened until Thursday night's broadcast, some TV writers were skeptical, noting that several Web sites, claiming that they had received inside information from a disgruntled network writer, had correctly posted the names of the winners of the last seven episodes, including the finale. Television critics appeared to agree that the final episode of the second Survivor series lacked the punch of last year's Survivor finale, but that it was effective nonetheless. Jonathan Storm, the television critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer called the show "agonizingly prolonged, stunningly hokey, yet surprisingly emotional and dramatic."
"BUFFY" "FINALE" ISN'T
Having lost its top-rated Buffy the Vampire Slayer sitcom to UPN, which is paying $2.2 million for each episode next season, The WB is promoting the final three episodes as the "WB series finale." Some analysts are suggesting that although technically correct, the promos are misleading. Bill Carroll, vice president of programming at Katz Television, told Friday's New York Post that, while the core fans of the series are aware of the network switch, "the more casual viewer might get the wrong impression, although technically they're saying the truth: it is the final three episodes of Buffy that will air on the WB."
12 BUGS BUNNY CARTOONS YANKED FROM NETWORK MARATHON
Turner Broadcasting's Cartoon Network has removed 12 cartoons from a Bugs Bunny Marathon set for next month because they include racial and ethnic stereotypes, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday. The newspaper said that although the 12 cartoons were originally going to be accompanied by prominent disclaimers ("Cartoon Network does not endorse the use of racial slurs. These vintage cartoons are presented as representative of the time in which they were created and are presented for their historical value."), executives of the network decided to yank them after receiving messages from executives of corporate sibling Warner Bros. expressing their displeasure. Warner's, the newspaper said, "stopped short of a veto."
TRIAL OF ALLEGED KILLER OF BBC ANCHOR BEGINS
The trial of Barry George for the murder of popular BBC anchor Jill Dando in April 1999 opened on Friday in London, with the chief prosecutor indicating in his opening remarks that George, a onetime BBC messenger, may have been holding a grudge against the public broadcasting corporation. (As reported in Friday's London Evening Standard, George once told a woman at a bus stop that he hated the BBC because of the way it had treated his idol, the late Freddie Mercury of the rock group Queen. Dando had once participated in a BBC skit spoofing Mercury, the newspaper said.) Prosecutor Orlando Pownall added, however, "Whether he harbored a hidden grudge against her [Dando] ... is impossible to determine ... [but] it is not for the Crown to prove motive. There are compelling categories of circumstantial evidence which, when taken together, prove that Barry George was the man who was responsible for killing Jill Dando."
MOVIE REVIEWS: "THE MUMMY RETURNS"
The Mummy Returns is likely to drive last week's box-office winner Driven off the track and leave the rest of the competition far behind in the dust, most trade analysts agreed. The original 1999 film opened with $43.4 million, and analysts predicted that the sequel will at least do as well. But many critics were not persuaded that it's worth the price of admission. As the New York Times' Elvis Mitchell observed, "This enterprise is to the movies what an average boy band is to pop; just because there's an audience for it doesn't mean it's any good." Kenneth Turan puts it this way: "If you've been looking for a film like The Mummy Returns, The Mummy Returns is the film you've been looking for." Several critics commented that the sequel is not as entertaining as the original (they didn't like the original much, either), but Jonathan Foreman in the New York Post adds that the movie "is still perfectly enjoyable swashbuckling, eye-catching entertainment." Many critics note that the film is the first film of the summer (well, almost summer) aimed at teenage boys. But Philip Wuntch in the Dallas Morning News goes on to say, "its gleeful fun should appeal to all age brackets." Bob Longino in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution comments that, "like its predecessor, The Mummy Returns leaps and bounds, jokes and scares, roars and double-roars. And not for a single second does it ever feel real." But Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times faults the film for attempting to pack too much action into its two-hour length -- the very thing that is likely to draw the target audience. "Imagine yourself on a roller coaster for two hours," he remarks. "After the first 10 minutes, the thrills subside." (Apparently Ebert hasn't been around teenagers at amusement parks who eagerly ride roller coasters for an entire day.) Across town, Mark Caro in the Chicago Tribune likens watching the movie to a different kind of experience. It is, he says, "like standing behind someone playing a pretty cool video game. You may feel some vicarious excitement, but eventually you'd rather experience your own thrills."
CULKIN FINDS A WARM HOME OFF-BROADWAY
Former child film star Macaulay Culkin made his Off-Broadway debut Thursday in Madame Melville drawing solid notices. (He had originally starred in the play in London.) "Macaulay Culkin turns out to be quite the actor," writes Donald Lyons in Friday's New York Post, commenting also that he "embodies with remarkable poetry" the character that he plays, who is at times 30 years old (or older) and at others 15. Culkin is 20. Ben Brantley in the New York times comments that Culkin's performance "isn't all that accomplished by traditional standards. ... Yet this actor, who ruled the Hollywood box office before he turned 12 with hits like Home Alone and its sequel, turns out to serve the purposes of Madame Melville very well indeed."
CANADIAN COLUMNIST ACCUSES CHRISTY
The scandal over the Hollywood Reporter's freeloading gossip columnist George Christy has spread to Canada, where Toronto Star columnist Sid Adilman reported today (Friday) that Christy accepts free airfare, hotel accommodations and expenses to attend the annual Toronto and Montreal film festivals. At the Toronto festival, Adilman said, Christy also hosts a luncheon for visiting celebrities and local "movers and shakers" at the Four Seasons Hotel. Adilman reports that Gabrielle Free (sic), the festival's publicist, denied that it pays for his hotel, his expenses, or the celebrity lunch, although she acknowledged that it does pay for his airfare. The Reporter does not pay for the lunch, Adilman added. The Four Seasons Hotel declined to comment.
CAMERON SAYS DIGITAL CAMERAS WILL TRANSFORM FILMMAKING
Director James Cameron says that the development of small, digital, high-definition cameras will release filmmakers from many of the constraints that film cameras have imposed on them in the past. "One of the great advantages of HD, which hasn't really been thought about, is the size of equipment and its relation to the scene you're shooting," he said. As reported by the online edition of Britain's Empire magazine, Cameron remarked that traditional film technology, in which the film reel has to be physically adjacent to the lens, is "an ancient system...There will be much more flexibility and fluidity of movement because the physical size of the camera is so small."
S.F. FILM FESTIVAL WINDS UP
The San Francisco International Film Festival wound up Thursday, reporting record attendance of 80,893, up 18 percent over last year. The festival awarded its $10,000 SKYY Prize ("to recognize a first-time feature filmmaker whose film exhibits unique artistic sensibility") to Patrick Stettner's The Business of Strangers starring Stockard Channing and Julia Stiles.