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. 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

There’s a Leek in the Boat

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 isn’t quite as fresh as the original, but it’s still a tasty adventure. Although the book was followed by a sequel called Pickles to Pittsburgh, this sequel picks up right where the movie left off. Phil Lord & Christopher Miller are replaced by a different directing duo that also have ties to Sony animation. The computer animation is just as vibrate with even more crazy cartoony antics. Almost the entire cast returns with Bill Hader as inventor Flint Lockwood.

Anna Faris returns as his presumed girlfriend Sam Sparks, James Caan as his more understanding fisherman father Tim, Neil Patrick Harris as his monkey Steve, Andy Samberg as redeemed bully “Chicken” Brent, and Benjamin Bratt as Sam’s more fleshed out cameraman Manny. Terry Crews replaces Mr. T as Officer Devereaux since the latter hasn’t done much since the first movie. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 isn’t as simple as food raining from the sky. The plot is a bit over complicated with a more obvious villain plotting to steal Flint’s food machine. Fellow SNL cast member Will Forte previously voiced a recurring townsperson, but now he’s promoted to Flint’s flexible scientific idol Chester V.

He manipulates Flint by moving the town and making him question his friendships. Kristen Schaal is also on Chester’s side as his intelligent talking orangutan Barb. Flint and the gang are closer than ever when they all go on a mission to find the FLDSMDFR. The sequel is basically The Lost World with constant food puns. Swallow Falls is now populated by foodimals like a cheese spider, tacodile supreme, Tim’s pickle friends, and the adorable Barry the strawberry. Of course there’s a message about respecting the new ecosystem that’s just unique enough to work. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 is a second helping of fun.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2

Sam presents Barry to Flint

Preceded by: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is mouthwatering fun. I used to love the 1978 book when I was a kid. The concept of food raining from the sky was too delicious to ignore. Although I never made an effort to see Sony animated movies before, I was really curious to see how Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs could be adapted. Little did I know it would also be my introduction to the hilarious directing duo Phil Lord & Christopher Miller. The book is more like a bedtime story with a grandfather telling his grandkids about a town where it rained breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The movie gives everything an explanation by making it about an eccentric inventor who designs a machine that can turn water into food. The only specific references to the book are images like giant pancakes falling on a school, juice in an umbrella, or sandwhich boats. The animation is simple, but colorful with zany cartoon logic.

Swallow Falls is a drab little town stuck eating sardines until Flint Lockwood’s oddly named FLDSMDFR makes it rain cheeseburgers. Flint is easily one of the funniest computer animated inventors. He’s nerdy, relatable, and just wants to make his father proud. His failed inventions are a running gag throughout the movie. Including spray-on shoes, remote controlled television, hair unbalder, a flying car, and ratbirds. His monkey thought translator is used by his best friend Steve. Although spaghetti tornados and/or ice cream snow is the biggest draw, it’s the all star cast that brings it to life. Bill Hader is the perfect mad scientist and Neil Patrick Harris is a good helper monkey. Anna Faris voices cute aspiring weather girl Sam Sparks who’s a lot smarter than she seems. Flint falls for her and they try to save the town together.

Benjamin Bratt voices her cameraman Manny who gets a few unexpected laughs. Fellow SNL cast member Andy Samberg voices bizarre bully “Baby” Brent who experiences an identity crisis. Mr. T is a big scene stealer as athletic police officer Devereaux who loves his son Cal and doesn’t trust Flint. James Caan gives the movie heart playing another dad who doesn’t understand his son. Bruce Campbell is the villainous Mayor with inflated ambitions who utters a very out of nowhere swear word that made the movie PG for no reason. But the biggest threat is the food machine when food gets bigger and starts to gain sentience. Luckily clever foreshadowing is able to clear the storm clouds. Ending with the catchy song “Raining Sunshine” sung by my childhood icon Miranda Cosgrove. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is a tasty treat for all the dreamers out there.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Flint catches a raining cheeseburger

Followed by: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2

I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghost

Ghostbusters: Afterlife finally answers the call fans like me have been waiting for. Ghostbusters III has had an especially complicated production for over 3 decades. Ghostbusters is a comedy classic, but Ghostbusters II was mostly unremarkable. The franchise was kept alive through the last 3 seasons of The Real Ghostbusters, the radical 90’s series Extreme Ghostbusters, comics, and video games. Ghostbusters: The Video Game was the closest thing to a third movie with the original cast returning. Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver, and Annie Potts were fine with another sequel, but Bill Murray had his doubts. Let’s just pretend the 2016 female Ghostbusters never happened.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife is the true love letter to the franchise. It’s a symbolic passing of the torch since Jason Reitman assumes the directing mantle of his father Ivan Reitman. The teaser seemed to come out of nowhere, but I had hopes for the movie. After waiting another year due to the pandemic, Afterlife ended up being nostalgic without feeling like overkill. There are several callbacks to the original, but this is definitely a Jason Reitman coming-of-age style movie set in a small town. Carrie Coon is Egon’s estranged daughter and struggling single mother of two. McKenna Grace’s Phoebe Spengler is practically Egon reborn as a nerdy teenage girl. Finn Wolfhard fulfills the Stranger Things prophecy of him becoming a young Ghostbuster.

Afterlife is like Extreme Ghostbusters with an ethnically diverse next generation catching ghosts. Much like Chris Hemsworth, Paul Rudd is an MCU actor who brings the most laughs as Phoebe’s science teacher. The humor is far more natural and less desperate compared to the 2016 film. It’s fun seeing familiar tech like the Ecto-1, Proton Packs, or a P.K.E. Meter, but it’s equally neat to see features like a gunner seat or a remote controlled trap. While Silmer would’ve been a welcomed cameo, Muncher is a suitable replacement. The funniest callback is an army of mini mischievous Stay Puft Marshmallow Men instead of one big one. I think the villain choice is the only thing that could’ve been more original. Aside from that, the returning Ghostbusters are never disrespected and don’t feel like a deus ex machina. There’s even a surprise that left me a little emotional. Ghostbusters: Afterlife ain’t afraid to give fans exactly what they want.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife

The Ecto-1 in a field

Preceded by: Ghostbusters II

He’s Crude, He’s Crass, He’s Family

Uncle Buck is fun for the whole family. Even if they sometimes embarrass you. Although John Hughes is mostly known for directing teen movies, Planes, Trains and Automobiles marked a shift in his career. Leading to another collaboration with John Candy at the end of the 80’s. I wish I’d seen Uncle Buck sooner, because it’s just as hilarious. Like most great Hughes films, the Russell family is from Chicago. When the parents look after a sick relative, they reluctantly call Uncle Buck. A good premise that’s more suited for a movie than TV.

Buck Russell is a slob who drinks, smokes cigars, gambles, and doesn’t have a job. He also takes his girlfriend Chanice for granted and drives a crappy car. Yet he’s always charming and means well. Even though a who’s who of famous actors were considered, John Candy is too perfect in the part. The Russell kids all make an impression too. Jean Louisa Kelly makes her film debut as the seriously rebellious teenager Tia. Most of Buck’s time is spent trying to win her over and humorously scaring her boyfriend Bug. The other kids are played by a young Gaby Hoffmann and Macaulay Culkin in the role that ensured his success as a child actor.

Miles is just as precocious as Culkin’s later roles and Maizy is a silly heart with just as many stand out scenes. I personally couldn’t stop laughing at Miles’ interrogation of Uncle Buck. You know Buck’s changed when he makes giant pancakes for Miles’ birthday, puts Maizy’s mean mole faced assistant principal in her place, and rescues Tia from her cheating boyfriend. Although Laurie Metcalf plays a desperate neighbor, Buck manages to repair his relationship as well. Uncle Buck is rough around the edges, but easy to love.

Uncle Buck

Miles cross-examines Uncle Buck