Animation Cel-ebration
May 5, 2023 posted by Michael Lyons

Cold Comfort: Celebration of the First “Ice Age”

Director John Ford’s classic western 3 Godfathers, starring John Wayne, tells a sometimes brutal, sometimes divine story of three fugitive outlaws who find themselves caring for an infant. Not exactly a film that could be seen as a well of inspiration for an animated film.

And yet, this seems to be the spiritual influence for Ice Age.

Set during the titular, prehistoric time frame, the computer-animated film tells the tale of Manny, a wooly mammoth, Diego, a saber-tooth tiger, and a sloth named Sid, who must partner together to return an abandoned human infant to others of its kind. Playing out in a parallel story during the film are the struggles of Scrat, the squirrel who is attempting to store his acorn for the winter.

Ice Age surpassed all expectations when released on March 15th, 2002, becoming a surprise hit for 20th Century Fox and the modest animation house, Blue Sky Studio, who created the film. Additionally, the film launched a franchise that’s still going strong, including six theatrical movies, short subjects, TV specials, merchandise, and more.

Sid and Manny concept art by Peter de Sève

The film first surfaced as a traditionally animated project at Fox in 1997 and was to be helmed by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman. When Blue Sky Studios, a small visual effects company based in White Plains, NY, was purchased by Fox, the project shifted over to a computer-animated film.

Research for the characters and Ice Age timeframe was done at New York’s Museum of Natural History, as the story went through its various transformations. Screenwriter Michael J. Wilson credits his daughter, Flora, with coming up with the idea of Scrat.

“She came up with a character in Ice Age that is a combination of a squirrel and a rat,” Wilson wrote in the Soo Theater News Blog. “She called him Scrat. ‘What does Scrat want?’ I asked Flora. ‘Dad. Hello? Scrat wants the acorn.’ Wow! So simple. I have been forever in Flora’s debt and creative shadow ever since.”

These comical, cartoon antics are balanced with the heart that’s found in the rest of the film, as Manny, Diego and Sid get closer to the baby that they’re helping.

Director Chris Wedge and his team took great pains using the latest software to render everything from the glacial backdrops of the film to the detail in Manny’s fur, to make it look believable yet artistic and animatable.

Voices were also carefully cast, with Ray Romano (hot on the success of Everybody Loves Raymond) bringing an unexpected voice to the large mammoth, that included a knowing and cynical tone; Denis Leary brings dangerous street-smarts to Diego that are perfect for the character, and John Leguizamo creates a Daffy Duck-infused lisping voice for Sid that’s innocent, wholly original and sounds nothing like the actor.

When it debuted, Ice Age broke the record for a March movie opening (which would later be surpassed by the sequel Ice Age: The Meltdown in 2006). Both are proof of how popular the characters and films are and how well they connect with audiences.

Now celebrating its 21st anniversary, the “Three Godfathers” of Manny, Diego, and Sid in Ice Age have had a popularity that’s ironically lasted a lot longer than…well…the Ice Age.


  • Ah, yes — John Leguizamo, whose distinctive voice can be heard raised in protest whenever he sees an insufficiently Latino actor cast in a Latino role. Since the several families of ground sloth originated in South America (though fossil remains have been found as far north as Alaska and Yukon), I suppose he must have felt entitled to the “Ice Age” gig.

    Of course, Leguizamo first came to widespread public attention with his short-lived sketch comedy show “House of Buggin'”, in which one of his recurring characters was a Japanese man who would not have been out of place in “Tokio Jokio”.

    I’ll be the first to admit that he was good in “Encanto”. But I tell you, I despise that obnoxious, self-serving hypocrite.

  • The “Ice Age” film works well when paired with a viewing of the Disney film “Dinosaur”–not because the movies have much in common, certainly no common characters or storylines, but because each one represents graphically a different era in prehistory. Each in its own way tells a compelling, fascinating story–one predating the existence of humans, the other incorporating humans as though they were a new breed.

    I like the parallel to “3 Godfathers” as that film and “Ice Age” do have some startling similarities.

  • This retrospective post serendipitously ties into a thesis project I have been working on for over a year; one I hope to submit before the end of my summer break. Without delving into specifics, my intent rests in paying tribute to Blue Sky as not just a studio that was ambitious for their time (debatably more than critics and general audiences often credited them for), but one that was integral to revitalizing mainstream animation production on the East Coast.

  • Hmm… I was Head of Story on that film and remember the creation of Scrat VERY differently. For various reasons, history continually rewrites itself.

    • Yvette, well … let’s hear what you have to say abut what you remember!

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