Hang On

Cliffhanger is basically “Die Hard on a mountain.” A totally radical idea for the totally radical 90’s. I wasn’t surprised to learn a mountain climber came up with the concept. Sylvester Stallone struggled in the early 90’s, but Cliffhanger was just the moderate success he needed. Just a cheesy action flick with a suspension of disbelief the size of a mountain. Stallone plays fearless rescue ranger Gabe Walker. A man haunted by the one mountain climber he couldn’t save. The opening fall is actually more upsetting than I was expecting.

Gabe comes out of retirement John McClane style in a desperate fight for survival. He’s joined by Janine Turner as his rescue ranger girlfriend and supported by Michael Rooker as the rescue ranger who blames him for his girlfriend’s death. I had no idea Stallone and Rooker worked together before Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Cliffhanger starts out relatively tame, then gets very profane and violent when the bad guys enter the picture. John Lithgow plays obvious Hans Gruber stand-in Eric Qualen.

While putting on a ridiculous British accent, Qualen leads a rough gang of thieves who systematically rob a plane for the U.S. Treasury. They all search for three suitcases containing money that they lose in the mountain. Walker and his crew take out each sadistic criminal one by one. I had no idea how an action movie could be set on the side of a cliff, but it’s not too over-the-top. Even in the end when Walker and Qualen face off on a falling helicopter. Cliffhanger hangs on long enough to make an impression.

Cliffhanger

Gabe Walker hangs on

Going Extinct

Ice Age: Collision Course is when the franchise finally went extinct. With the exception of shorts and specials, it almost seemed like Blue Sky Studios was done making Ice Age movies. Three movies were released between Continental Drift and Collision Course instead of one. Since I was 21 at the time, I was officially done with the franchise. Marking the only Ice Age movie I didn’t see in theaters (and for good reason). Collision Course is an awful unfunny fall from grace that doesn’t make any sense. Not to mention all the cringey pop culture references. As I said in my Ice Age review, every sequel is in some way inspired by the ice cave sequence from the first movie. Piranhas are briefly featured in The Meltdown, dinosaurs are prominently featured in Dawn of the Dinosaurs, and the sloth evolution can be interpreted as Sid’s family in Continental Drift.

The final frozen object was a flying saucer that was clearly meant as a one off joke, not an entire movie! Collision Course tries to sound smart with voices like Neil deGrasse Tyson, but the plot abandons what little logic the franchise had left. Scrat’s entire acorn chasing subplot involves him finding a flying saucer, launching into space, accidentally creating the solar system, and sending a meteor hurtling towards Earth. The herd seems to get bigger with every passing film. Now including Manny, Sid, Diego, Ellie, Crash, Eddie, Peaches, Granny, and Shira. Manny and Ellie are concerned with Peaches leaving the herd with her goofy fiancรฉe Julian voiced by Adam DeVine. Diego and Shira briefly discuss having cubs. Sid finally finds love, but it’s more rushed than any of the other romances.

Crash and Eddie continue to be stupid, while Granny continues to annoy everyone. Louis isn’t even mentioned, but Buck unfortunately returns to be just as insufferable. He leaves the lost world to help the herd prevent their apocalypse. Aside from being chased by three forgettable flying dinosaur villains, the herd faces meteor showers, a ridiculous electrical storm, and discover a geode palace full of immortal animals. Remember when the first movie was about returning a baby? Jesse Tyler Ferguson voices the irritating yoga obsessed Shangri Llama and Jessie J continues the singer tradition of voicing Sid’s bubbly love interest Brooke. I couldn’t even bring myself to care whether the herd survived yet another world ending event. Ice Age: Collision Course is like an asteroid that explodes upon impact.

12. Ice Age Collision Course

Scrat in space with his acorn

Preceded by: Ice Age: Continental Drift

Scrat’s Odyssey

Ice Age: Continental Drift kept the endangered franchise from going extinct. Blue Sky Studios maintained a tradition of releasing a new Ice Age sequel after every original movie. After Rio, I was practically done with the prehistoric franchise. I was 17 and very nearly skipped seeing the fourth installment in theaters. Until I learned about the Maggie Simpson short film The Longest Daycare. Luckily Continental Drift is a minor return to form for me. The 3D effects are obnoxious, but the computer animation is more realistic than its ever been. The story is an attempt to go back to basics. Even if it is done in the most ridiculous way possible. Continental Drift refers to Scrat causing Pangea to split apart after falling to the Earth’s core. If that wasn’t bizarre enough, Scrat spends most of his time following a trail to the lost acorn abundant city of Scratlantis. Along with directly affecting the plot, Scrat ends up stuck in the same seafaring adventure as the rest of the herd.

Manny, Sid, Diego, Ellie, Crash, and Eddie got bigger when Peaches was born. Save for a quick cameo, Buck’s absence is one reason I like this movie better. Dawn of the Dinosaurs is barely referenced and Sid even points out that it didn’t make sense. Manny shifts his concern to his now teenage daughter Peaches. Keke Palmer joins an all-star cast that’s come a long way since the beginning. Josh Gad voices his first animated character Louis. An awkward molehog friend of Peaches with a crush on her. Even though she’s more interested in popular mammoth Ethan. I like the direction, but adding pop stars like Drake, Nicki Minaj, or Jennifer Lopez does feel a little desperate. Sid mostly wants to prove he isn’t a screw up. The sloth family that abandoned him finally make an appearance only to ditch their overbearing Granny voiced by a mostly funny Wanda Sykes.

Manny, Sid, and Diego are stuck with Granny on an iceberg boat that separates them from civilization. Their adventure is an obvious take on Homer’s Odyssey, right down to the use of sirens. Meanwhile, Ellie leads Peaches and the rest of the prehistoric animals to safety. Crash and Eddie are mostly around to be stupid. The first true villain since the first movie is Captain Gutt. A humorous primate pirate leading a scurvy crew of celebrity voiced animals. Peter Dinklage is joined by the likes of Nick Frost as an elephant seal, Aziz Ansari as a rabbit, and Rebel Wilson as a kangaroo. J.Lo voices Gutt’s sassy female saber-toothed tiger first mate Shira. I immediately knew that meant Diego was finally getting a love interest. Their adventure takes them across the sea through storms, an island inhabited by adorable hyrax, and away from the aforementioned sirens. It’s a fun journey even though it ends the way you’d expect. The songs are still catchy, but Ice Age: Continental Drift is beginning to show its age.

8. Ice Age Continental Drift

Captain Gutt captures Manny, Sid, Diego, and Scrat

Preceded by: Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs & Followed by: Ice Age: Collision Course

Walk the Dinosaur

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs is when the franchise officially started going downhill. Blue Sky Studios remained relatively consistent with movies like Horton Hears a Who!, but they couldn’t let go of their most profitable property. Dawn of the Dinosaurs felt like it was jumping the shark ever since it was first announced. Since I was 14 at the time, the progressively tame and/or juvenile jokes didn’t impress me much. Yet my brother and I remained just as dedicated as we were with Pixar or DreamWorks. At least the computer animation has gotten much more realistic since The Meltdown. Scrat has another mostly disconnected subplot, but there’s more of a running theme than there was before. Now Scrat has a spunky female saber-toothed flying squirrel love interest voiced by Blue Sky animator Karen Disher.

Scrat and Scratte fight for the acorn in tar pits until they eventually fall in love. Except Scrat realizes he loves the acorn more. As for the herd, Manny, Sid, Deigo, Ellie, Crash, and Eddie are one big happy family that get seperated for most of the movie. Despite the franchise being named Ice Age, there’s also barely any snow. Dawn of the Dinosaurs obviously refers to the sudden appearance of presumably extinct dinosaurs. The dinosaurs have creative designs, but they feel like an easy route for a prehistoric series like this. The herd once again deals with separate problems of varying importance. Manny is extra worried about Ellie since they’re about to have a baby. Diego wants to leave the herd since he feels like he’s losing his edge. I’ll admit it’s a better storyline for him than being afraid of water.

Sid wants to experience motherhood, so he adopts a trio of eggs that end up being T-Rexes. A mother T-Rex takes Sid and her babies deep underground to a convoluted lost world beneath the ice. Crash and Eddie were tolerable before, but now they’re a little too annoying. Although not as insufferable as new character Buck. A crazy adventurous weasel with one eye who hunts dinosaurs. Simon Pegg is usually pretty funny, but Buck is more cringy than anything. Crash, Eddie, and even Diego’s hero worship doesn’t help. Their journey takes them through carnivorous plants, across a pit of laughing gas, above oceans of lava, and against Buck’s archenemy Rudy. Ellie giving birth to the adorable Peaches is the only highlight for me. Save for the catchy Queen Latifah song “Walk the Dinosaur,” Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs is an adventure too big for its own good.

6. Ice Age Dawn of the Dinosaurs

Buck saves Manny, Diego, Ellie, Crash, and Eddie

Preceded by: Ice Age: The Meltdown & Followed by: Ice Age: Continental Drift

Saving the Species

Ice Age: The Meltdown is a lukewarm sequel with enough to offer. Blue Sky Studios is its own unique computer animation company, but it still follows the Pixar and DreamWorks model of putting more emphasis on their biggest hit. After experimenting with Robots, Ice Age: The Meltdown caught up with everyone’s favorite unlikely herd. 4 years made a big difference with the animation going from partially rendered to practically life-like. Although The Meltdown does stray from the original with more swearing and crude jokes, I still enjoy it just as much as I did when I was 10. My brother and I even played the official video game. Scrat continues to steal the show with his own completely separate acorn chasing subplot. Such highlights include being sprayed by water, getting trapped in ice, fighting a school of vicious piranha, and dealing with a baby vulture in a nest.

Scrat has almost no interaction with the main characters until the end where he unknowingly saves the day, dies, and goes to acorn Heaven. Though he does survive long enough to star in another Oscar nominated short called No Time for Nuts. Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, and Denis Leary are closer than ever as Manny, Sid, and Diego. They spend more time with a community of prehistoric animals in a resort-like iceberg. The conflict this time is global warming. The Meltdown refers to a massive flood that will fill up the ice bowl they live in. Traveling to find a boat is an obvious Noah’s Ark reference. Jay Leno voices the doom bringing armadillo Fast Tony and Will Arnett confirms it as an ever-present vulture. Each herd member has their own problems to deal with.

Sid feels disrespected and ends up being worshipped by an out of nowhere tribe of technicolor sloths. Diego’s problems are downgraded to facing a fear of water. Only Manny is dealing with something more massive. When everyone convinces him he’s the last mammoth, he meets a female mammoth named Ellie. Since Ice Age was a bit of a dude fest, it was nice to have Queen Latifah join the cast. Ellie is a sweet, but delusional mammoth who thinks she’s a possum. Her twin brothers Crash and Eddie are a fun-loving pair that aren’t too annoying. Though it is odd to have Seann William Scott or Josh Peck not paired with their usual co-stars. Their new herd faces broken ice, precarious cliffs, and two mindless prehistoric sea serpents. Manny’s primary goal is to save the species, but his relationship with Ellie grows the way you’d expect. Ice Age: The Meltdown is the only sequel that has heart and a relatively believable story.

4. Ice Age The Meltdown

Manny, Sid, and Diego follow Ellie, Crash, and Eddie

Preceded by: Ice Age & Followed by: Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs

Follow that Acorn

Ice Age brings a little warmth to the coldest period in history. Before Disney unfairly shut it down, Blue Sky Studios was my third favorite computer animation company. Ice Age isn’t a huge game changer, but it was suitable competition for Pixar and DreamWorks. Earning it an early Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature. The idea for Ice Age is as old as the now defunct 90’s 20th Century Fox animation studio. It was originally meant to be a more dramatic traditionally animated adventure with Don Bluth in mind. Although it would’ve been different, I’m glad they switched to a more comedic computer animated buddy film.

Blue Sky got its start as a special effects company before evolving into a movie studio. Director Chris Wedge showed what he could do with the Oscar winning short film Bunny, but Ice Age was a major step forward for computer animated animals. Although crude by today’s standards, it was unique for featuring a cast of talking prehistoric creatures. I’ll never forget seeing the movie for the first time when I was 6. My dad intended to take my brother and I to Ice Age, but we ended up seeing The Time Machine instead when the former was sold out. Ice Age has been a childhood favorite ever since that little setback was straightened out…

1. Ice Age

Manny, Sid, and Diego travel with the kid

Ice Age isn’t exactly an accurate depiction of the Pleistocene era. Aside from their stylized appearances, many of the prehistoric animals didn’t co-exist. Yet animators closely studied natural history museums in order to correctly capture the time period. Snow and ice feels cold without being overly realistic. Ice Age begins in the snow with its breakout character front and center. Scrat is a Cronopio, or saber-toothed squirrel that’s more like a cross between a squirrel and a rat. Although intended as a one off character, Scrat is too fun not to have his own subplot throughout the movie. Only occasionally interacting with the main characters. Scrat is a mute fidgety creature voiced by Chris Wedge himself. All he wants is a spot to bury his beloved acorn, but he constantly faces humorous setbacks.

Such highlights include causing a crack in the ice that creates a massive avalanche, getting struck by lightning, popping his acorn in a fire, and being unfrozen 20,000 years in the future. He even stars in the Oscar nominated short Gone Nutty. A whole herd of prehistoric animals are only seen in an opening migration. It’s there that we’re introduced to the most unlikely herd you’ll ever see. Manfred, or Manny represents the ice age the best as a well known woolly mammoth. He’s first depicted as a grumpy loner who heads away from civilization. Despite mostly being known for TV, Ray Romano has the deep voice of an elephant mixed with witty sarcasm. Manny seems mean at first, but there’s really a big heart hidden under all that fur. His patience is really tested when Sid the Sloth enters his life.

Sid is a Megalonyx, or ground sloth that I never heard of before the movie. Although you’d expect a sloth to be slow, John Leguizamo turns him into a blabbermouth with a distinct lisp. Sid is abandoned by his own family and chased by angry prehistoric rhinos voiced by Stephen Root and Cedric the Entertainer. They’re forever stuck together when Manny saves his life, but their odd couple dynamic is only complete when Diego joins them. Diego is a Smilodon, commonly known as a saber-toothed tiger. As a predator, Diego’s motivations are a lot more complex. Only Denis Leary is sardonic enough to keep you questioning his true intentions. Diego is secretly working for throwaway villain Soto. Your basic predator out for revenge on mankind.

Ice Age is the only film in the franchise to depict early humans. Their tribe is ambushed by Soto and his pack of distinct saber-toothed tigers. Diedrich Bader is the smarter Oscar, Alan Tudyk is the fatter Lenny, and Jack Black voices his first animated character as the unhinged Zeke. Diego goes after the chief’s infant son Roshan, but fails to attack his mother. Ice Age is a hilarious comedy, but her sacrifice is what really gives the movie heart. Diego smooth talks his way into the herd by promising to find the kid’s father. Ice Age is basically Three Men and a Baby with a mammoth, sloth, and saber. Since the cast was allowed to improvise, most scenes are comedy gold. I couldn’t stop laughing at the diaper changing scene and the melon scene that follows. Their encounter with dottos is especially funny since they keep dying.

The frozen tundra is only seen again at the 39 minute mark. The herd starts to bond more in a fun montage set to “Send Me on My Way” by Rusted Root. They eventually enter a cave that correctly predicts every sequel in the franchise. Leading to a thrilling ice sliding sequence. Sid is the same lovable doofus by the end, but Manny and even Diego really start to care about the kid overtime. Manny’s most touching scene is reliving past trauma through cave drawings. After Manny saves him from falling into lava, Diego changes when he chooses his new herd over his old pack. Diego was supposed to die, but the franchise wouldn’t be the same without him. When the kid is returned, Manny, Sid, and Diego head off into the sunset joking about global warming. Ice Age is uncommon and exactly what an up and coming animation studio needed to become successful.

2. Ice Age

Scrat buries his acorn

Followed by: Ice Age: The Meltdown

Can You Say… Hero?

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood keeps the message of Mr. Rogers alive. Although Won’t You Be My Neighbor? seemed like enough, the documentary was quickly followed by a biopic. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood was just as welcomed and touching in an entirely different way. Rather than follow his life story, Mr. Rogers is more of a supporting character to the man who wrote an Esquire article about him in 1998. “Can You Say… Hero?” was written by Tom Junod, but the movie is framed more like an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

Right down to a classic PBS filming style and Neighborhood of Make-Believe props standing in for the city. Despite playing so many real life individuals already, Tom Hanks seamlessly pulls off the iconic red sweater. He still sounds like himself, but his soft speech pattern is pure Fred Rogers. Earning him another Best Supporting Actor nomination. Matthew Rhys plays the fictional Lloyd Vogel. A cynical writer loosely based on Junod who questions whether Mr. Rogers is genuine or not.

Lloyd himself deals with becoming a new father and coming to terms with the father who abandoned him. So Mr. Rogers uses his puppets, philosophy, and teachings in order to help him. Susan Kelechi Watson is Vogel’s wife whose more optimistic as a childhood fan of Mr. Rogers. Chris Cooper is Vogel’s father trying his best to connect with his son. Mr. Rogers manages to get through to Lloyd and teach a message of forgiveness along the way. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a beautiful film for these trying times.

Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Mr. Rogers changes his shoes

A Little Kindness Makes a World of Difference

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? came out at just the right time. It warms my heart to know someone as wholesome and innocent as Mr. Rogers can still be embraced in the cynical world we live in. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is a rare documentary that struck a chord with the general public. Making it the highest grossing biographical documentary of all time. I knew I wanted to watch the film even though I was really young when I watched Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

Director Robert Neville covers the entire life of Fred Rogers. From humble beginnings as an awkward imaginative child to his discovery of public television. As well as his strong Christian beliefs that fueled his philosophy to love thy neighbor. He took a quieter approach to children’s entertainment and never talked down to kids. We learn all about his puppets like Daniel Striped Tiger and other recurring characters in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe.

Although Mr. Rogers launched an educational children’s program, the movie doesn’t stray from the more PG-13 topics that he faced. Even questions of alleged homosexuality are explored. I was really surprised to see parodies like Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood brought up, but I understand wanting to cover everything. I knew he was radical, but Mr. Rogers talked about death, fought against racism, and welcomed a disabled child. Mr. Rogers may have faced controversy, but he never stopped believing in children. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? reinforces his message that everyone is special.

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

Mr. Rogers with Mr. McFeely

A Not So Valiant Effort

Bloodshot misses the mark. Although I’ve always been a huge superhero fan, even I never heard of Valiant Comics until maybe 5 years ago. You’d be surprised at just how many obscure comic book titles there are. Bloodshot was yet another futile attempt to launch a cinematic universe. Harbinger would’ve been the next installment, but nobody’s really asking for that. Bloodshot seemed like a badass anti-hero deserving of some media attention. Since I figured it would be bad, I only saw the movie out of obligation. I saw Bloodshot by myself, but it has the unfortunate honor of being the last movie I saw before the theater shutdown. The pandemic forced it onto streaming 2 weeks after release.

Despite fans clearly craving comic accuracy, Bloodshot is more Vin Diesel action flick than superhero movie. Although Bloodshot’s origin isn’t always consistent, he’s either mafia hitman Angelo Mortalli or covert operative Raymond Garrison. Diesel plays U.S. soldier Ray Garrison who loses his wife and his life to a mercenary. Bloodshot feels like a generic 90’s superhero movie with shady organization Rising Spirit Technologies led by Guy Pearce. KT is Ray’s sexy fellow soldier, Jimmy Dalton is a throwaway villain with a suit resembling X-O Manowar, and Wigans is an overly eccentric hacker.

RST manipulates Ray with false memories in order to eliminate enemies like one played by Toby Kebbell. In the comics, Bloodshot was infused with regenerating nanotechnology that gave him chalk white skin, red eyes, and a red spot on his chest. The movie keeps the overall ability, but the R rated story is watered down to a PG-13. Diesel doesn’t bother wearing a wig or looking like the character at all. Ray only looks like Bloodshot when he overexerts his power at the end.ย Bloodshot is more or less dead on arrival.

Bloodshot

Bloodshot vs. Jimmy Dalton

Born in Darkness

Spawn has the 90’s written all over it. It’s no secret that DC and Marvel are the reigning comic book companies. Comic creator Todd McFarlane got his start making edgy Spider-Man comics and bringing Venom to life. His style was so edgy that it led to the creation of the first creator-owned superhero company Image Comics. McFarlane had been developing Spawn ever since he was a teenager. Until his anti-hero became the hottest thing in the 90’s. Though I’m always wary of hell-raising superheroes, Spawn is a badass character with a prominent red cape, edgy spikes, chains, glowing green Necroplasmic eyes, and a Spider-Man inspired black costume. Spawn’s success led to toys, video games, a mature animated series, and a terrible 1997 movie that came out way too soon. I sometimes forget the film even exists, because of how unique it is.

Apart from being the only legitimate Image Comics movie, Spawn is the first movie starring an existing black superhero. I’d say that’s a big milestone, but Spawn suffers from the same problem as Steel (released 14 days later). Spawn has over-the-top performances, a dated 90’s soundtrack, horrifically bad CGI, little faithfulness to the source material, filler that distracts from the titular hero, and a baffling PG-13 rating. Only the makeup used on Spawn and his archenemy the Violator have any comic accuracy. Spawn mostly follows CIA operative Al Simmons’ origin of being betrayed by his boss and sent to Hell where a devil turns him into a Hellspawn with a variety of superpowers. Michael Jai White tries his best, but it’s difficult to get excited when his face is always horribly disfigured. Aside from his wife Wanda and daughter Cyan, fellow CIA agent Terry and his killer are both race changed to be white instead of black.

His killer is now a sexy female assassin named Jessica Priest. Martin Sheen plays his overly evil boss Jason Wynn with plans of destroying the world with a deadly bioweapon or something like that. It doesn’t stand out nearly as much as John Leguizamo mugging the camera as the overweight blue-faced clown Violator. We all know how much Michael Jai White hates clowns. This was unfortunately Nicol Williamson’s final role as Spawn’s mentor Cogliostro, but it’s not too insulting. Although they try to recapture McFarlane’s unique art style, the devil Malebolgia, Hell, Violator’s demonic form, and Spawn’s cape are all awful special effects. Until MacFarlane’s reboot escapes development hell, Spawn remains one of the worst superhero movies of the 90’s.

Spawn

Spawn broods