It's hard to believe that the "Ice Age" animated franchise is now 10 years old with the fourth installment, "Continental Drift," opening Friday. Although that ties "Shrek," Blue Sky and Fox have already achieved global dominance with the last entry, "Dawn of the Dinosaurs," which racked up up a record-breaking $690 million internationally — a whopping 80% of its box office. Only "Toy Story 3" comes close with $648 million. True, Blue Sky has yet to attain the domestic blockbuster success of Pixar and DreamWorks or the stature that comes with winning an Oscar, but obviously the "Ice Age" phenomenon overseas is still worth noting as a model for success. Just think: It all began so innocently with the wily Scrat chasing his elusive acorn, and a mismatched trio coming together to save a child.
"We always get asked that question: Why is it so resonant around the world?" suggests "Continental Drift" co-director Mike Thurmeier (who also co-directed "Dawn of the Dinosaurs"). "We think all the films have an element of strange family coming together or the power of family against nature. I also think from a practical standpoint: When you have a mammoth [Manny, voiced by Ray Romano], a saber [Diego, voiced by Denis Leary] and a sloth [Sid, voiced by John Leguizamo], it feels like they could be from anywhere in the world. They aren't specific to the U.S. or any pop culture environment. It does blow my mind how well loved they are."
"Ice Age" has become so ingrained in the Blue Sky DNA that it's now a matter of steering clear of familiar landmines. So, in "Continental Drift," Scrat's antics literally cause a cataclysmic rift when the earth breaks apart. But not before Manny has trouble letting go of teenage daughter Peaches, and Sid is forced to deal with unresolved abandonment issues when reunited with his Granny. Later on in the franchise's first action/adventure, Diego gets a femme fatale girlfriend (voiced by Jennifer Lopez) when they encounter a band of unfriendly pirates led by orangutan Captain Gutt (voiced by Peter Dinklage of "Game of Thrones").
"Mike and I sat together and came up with our cornerstones," explains co-director Steve Martino (who co-directed "Horton Hears a Who!"). "What are the things that we want to do with this story that are important for distinguishing this film from the others? We talked about it wanting to be a more epic adventure, larger in scope, using 2.35:1 aspect ratio for the first time, and we wanted to take the 3-D storytelling component and create something bigger and better than we had ever done at Blue Sky [incorporating it as part of the process from the very beginning].
"Since Manny, Sid, and Diego are cast out to sea, the dynamics of waves and ocean and 3D clouds are very important. Since we're out at sea, that doesn't give you a typical landscape of trees and mountains, so our team developed a method of creating three-dimensional clouds that provided a very deep and dimensional landscape for out film."
As a result, Blue Sky upped its simulation technology to create the perfect storm, dynamic-looking clouds to travel through, and even more believable flowing beard on Captain Gutt.
So far, "Continental Drift" has had an auspicious start, earning more than $210 million overseas this month. We'll see how this translates domestically, especially with the cataclysmic arrival of "The Dark Knight Rises" in a week. But as far as Oscar consideration, the question remains: Will the odd family in peril theme resonate as strongly with the Academy's animation branch as it does with viewers overseas?