Bayside resident Mark Metcalf is an actor who has worked in movies, TV and on the stage. He is best known for his work in "Animal House," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Seinfeld."
In addition to his work on screen, Metcalf is involved with Milwaukee Film, First Stage Children's Theater and a number of other projects, including the comedy Web site, comicwonder.com.
He also finds time to write about movies for OnMilwaukee.com. In this month's installment of the Screening Room, Mark looks at "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs."
ICE AGE: DAWN OF THE DINOSAURS (2009)
My son took me to the movies for Father's Day. We went to see "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs." I was excited. The sound of Nickelodeon on the television, "El Tigre," "Danny Phantom," "Fairly Odd Parents," that high pitched, fairly frenetic sound and look of animated children's entertainment drives me crazy. Almost as crazy as the version of high school that they push down kid's throats on The Disney Channel. But the animated features that Dreamworks, Pixar, and Twentieth Century Fox keep coming up with are some of the best experiences I have had in movie theaters in several years.
The walls of my son's bedroom are painted with a scene from the Antarctic. An Emperor penguin father, with his son on his feet, a skua bird hovering, groups of penguins in the distance, the tail of a blue whale disappearing, and a leopard seal lurking, waiting for the baby to make a mistake, and he designed all of this three years before the movie "Happy Feet." But every time he allows me in his room I think of how visually perfect and how absolutely joyous that film was. I think it is one of my favorite films of all time. Really.
People without children probably don't go to see these movies. They should. Take a cousin or a niece. Baby-sit for a neighbor. The moment Pixar put "Toy Story" in the movie theaters, the world of family entertainment changed. Because the people making the movies were in their 20s and 30s, they started including some mischief for themselves as well as for the kids. It is in the stories, it's in the dialogue, the jokes, and there is more depth and variation in the visuals. Dare I say it - there is subtlety.
I think sequels are unfortunate and it is because of the success of these films there are sequels. It's some sort of business and marketing law that if something makes money then we must repeat it until it doesn't make money any more. And occasionally even after that.
There is about to be a "Toy Story 3." They are doing a "Shrek 4." And, as I said, on Father's Day I saw a sneak preview of "Ice Age 3."
The first "Ice Age" was good. Ray Romano, John Leguizamo and Dennis Leary voiced a mammoth, a sloth, and a saber tooth cat, respectively. It may be the last thing they need actors for -- their voices. They can replicate our faces with computer graphics, but they can't, yet, recreate the nuance, the timing, and the character that the human voice can bring. In the first installment, these three form an unlikely trio who take on the task of returning a human child to his tribe while being stalked by a pride of saber tooth tigers. Leary's character, "Diego," is supposed to be an inside man working for the pride, but he grows fond of the child and even of "Sid," the sloth, he finds a companion in Romano as "Manny," the mammoth, and helps them succeed in their task.
In "Ice Age 2," the ice begins to melt; extinction is on its way and "Manny" finds a mate. I thought the movie slipped from the standards of the first, but, as I said, I don't like sequels.
Now, they have made a third and reason tells me that it should be shabby compared to the original. But it is not. It is ludicrous, but it is well made and it entertains. The threesome is now a six-some with the addition of Queen Latifa as "Manny's mate," another mammoth, and her two brothers who are opossums.
I know it doesn't make any sense but, even though it is good and vastly superior to "Tom & Jerry," it is still a cartoon so almost anything is permitted. The plot is even crazier. The ice age is nearing its end, but the family somehow breaks through some thin ice and finds a lost world of dinosaurs down below. They adopt a trio of young Tyrannosaurus Rex's, get in trouble with their mother and then in bigger trouble with some unidentifiable dinosaur who is much, much bigger than the T-Rex.
There are some very funny sequences and a few scenes that are made for the computer game that will inevitably follow close on the heels of the movie. It all works because you really can't care that much about it. It has a good heart, the jokes are very funny, the good guys win and learn a little about themselves and each other along the way. But it doesn't make for a classic story. It's not one for the ages like "Wall-E," or "Happy Feet," or "Toy Story," or even "Up," which opened earlier this summer.
It isn't really daring, doesn't strike out into uncharted territory. It is marketing magic and even though it is focused on making money, it means well. And, like I said, it's very funny much of the time. And it was Father's Day after all, and Julius loved it, the air conditioning worked and the 3-D was better than it's ever been.
Mark Metcalf is an actor and owner of Libby Montana restaurant in Mequon. Still active in Milwaukee theater, he's best known for his roles as Neidermeyer in "Animal House" and as The Maestro on "Seinfeld."
Originally from New Jersey, Metcalf now lives in Bayside.