Lingering Questions about Ice Age

Netflix is not working on our blu ray player, and the DVD in the slot is Ice Age. So we’ve watched it 5 times in the past week, and we have some questions.

  1. Why do animals in Ice Age know that they are in an ice age?
  2. Why are they aware of other phenomena such as extinction and evolution?
  3. Why did this movie portray the dodo extinction as being entirely the dodo’s own fault, and, like, thousands of years before European colonialism?
  4. Why is Sid the giant sloth relatively small?
    ground-sloth-size-comparison
  5. Shouldn’t Diego be a lot bigger than he and the other sabre tooths are in this movie? (And – shouldn’t he actually be smaller than Sid?)
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But those aren’t the important questions. We have but two of those.

1. What is Ice Age trying to say about masculinity/heteronormativity/non-traditional families?

We should start by asking whether this movie is trying to say anything at all. After arguing about it over our many viewings, we came to the agreement that the film was trying to sincerely show three males helping a male human child return to his male father – emphasizing that men are capable of being nurturing (… sort of) and that they are also capable of friendship. But it wanted to be somewhat clear that there was nothing gay going on: most (but not all) of the moments of genuine affection/aggravation between these guys is punctuated by a quick Ice Age version of a “no homo” hashtag.

“You have beautiful eyes.”

“Get off my face.”

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“No, actually, that pink thing belongs to us.”

“‘Us?’ You two are kind of an odd couple. I see, you can’t have one of your own, so you wanna adopt.”

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“How ’bout a goodnight kiss for your big buddy Sid -”

“Shh, he’s asleep.”

“I was talking to you.”

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“From now on, I’ll call you, ‘Diego -”

“Lord of touch me and you’re dead! Nah, I’m just kidding, you little knuckle-head.”

“Hey, love birds.”

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“I could kiss you! Muah, muah muah muah muah! Yuck!” (followed by excessive amounts of picking fur off of tongue)

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Why? If the movie had just committed to its own sincerity it could be read in whichever way any given audience member would like: a story about three unlikely male friends, a story about an unlikely polyamorous relationship, and the way that erm kind of always saw it – a story about three unlikely male friends who’re kind of standing on the precipice of an unlikely polyamorous relationship.

If Disney had made this movie that’s exactly what would have happened. Disney might not be a beacon of LGBT representation (and… that’s kind of a major understatement) but along with all of the problematic coding, there’s a lot in the Disney canon to work with (see this). What’s more is that if there’s one thing Disney does really, really well, it’s unpacking, breaking down, and reassembling masculinity. Ice Age contains an almost exclusively-male cast: the three heroes are male, the kid is male, his mother is dead and was apparently the only woman in the human herd, the sabers are apparently an all-male pack, the squirrel is male, those two obviously gay rhinos are male, etc. It’s like The Hobbit. Or The Sword in the Stone.

(bless Peter, Fran, Phillipa, and Stephen, and specifically whichever one of them came up with that if it wasn’t a joint effort)

So with all of these men running around doing stuff without women to nag them (presumably), this would have been a nice opportunity to challenge conventions about masculinity rather than reinforce them, which is what ends up happening due to all of the little asides of “OK seriously we’re not gay wouldn’t it be icky if we were and isn’t it hilarious to even consider that we could be?”

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While the movie is about men experiencing emotions and camaraderie, God forbid the characters are actually allowed to do so without making a joke about it. But we can be generous to the movie – we like it, after all. Maybe the characters no-homoing each other speaks to their own entrenched discomfort about the very un-hypermasculine stuff that is currently happening to them. This would also be supported by the maybe two times one of them experiences feelings about another and there isn’t a gay joke.

When Manny saves Diego, we have this exchange:

“Why did you do that? You could have died trying to save me.”

“That’s what you do in a herd. You look out for each other.”

“Well, thanks.”

“I don’t know about you guys, but we are the weirdest herd I’ve ever seen.”

And later, Sid to Diego:

“Look at that big pushover. You know, Diego, I never had a friend who would risk his life for me.”

“Yeah, Manny’s… he’s a good guy.”

Sid could have made some “Manny and Diego sitting in a tree” joke instead, and we’re glad he didn’t. This way it becomes a defining moment of their friendship. Then again, there are no gay jokes at all about Manny and Diego – it’s either Sid/Manny or Sid/Diego. But that speaks to the discomfort – if any of these dudes is coded gay, it’s Sid. Until the next unnecessary sequel comes out, of course, which is apparently about finding Sid a heteronormative love interest.

So if it’s trying to be sincere about male love, but finding it difficult to just do it the way Timon and Pumbaa manage to do so very effortlessly in The Lion King (and maybe we’re just biased, but we’re pretty sure that while there may have been many influences that inspired Ice AgeTLK is probably THE reason this movie exists), then maybe we can be a little more accepting of the gay jokes. But we maintain that the movie would have been better if they’d been toned down, or excluded completely.

For more on the subject of queer readings of Ice Age or gay jokes and sincerity see this and this, respectively.

2. What is Ice Age saying about the relationships between humans and animals?

Not all that much. The movie asks the questions but doesn’t provide any answers. Why is Manny so selfless about this situation? We know what humans did to his family which helps us understand why he is at first so reluctant to help, but we’re left with the question of why Diego showing up changes his mind.

Does Manny simply see the appearance of another predator as a good enough reason to save the baby, even though humans killed his own baby? Does Manny decide that babies, all babies, deserve protection, despite what they might grow up to become? The relationship between the baby and Manny is told mostly through dialogue-free scenes where they gaze at each other. And once when Manny tells the baby what a useless product of evolution he is, and the baby is not offended. From these we see that Manny really is both the “big pushover” and “good guy” that Sid and Diego discern that he is. Maybe it’s against his will, but he becomes attached to the baby in spite of himself. The curious part is that before this happens, he still dedicates a few days’ aggravation to saving him. It’s understated and we’re not sure whether we like it that way.

Sid is immediately dedicated to returning the baby and doesn’t falter from this goal once, even when things get tough. He also offers to carry Diego when he is wounded. This makes us mad now, remembering how often we as an audience are asked to laugh at him when he’s clearly the best one there. Why is there no Sid-appreciation moment? OK we know why and it’s the opposite of a good reason for that. Do better, Ice Age.

Diego also has cause to hate humans but is probably less dedicated to killing the baby than Soto is. Forced by the plot to spend time with Sid, Manny, and the baby, Diego obviously decides that he doesn’t want to be a part of brutal baby-killing and eating of his mammoth friend. As to what Diego is  going to eat going forward, we don’t know – but at least we can say his kidnapping days are behind him.

We might ask similar questions about the baby. When he grows up, will he hunt and eat animals, or will he become the first human vegan? Will his family tell him that sabers killed his mother? Let’s not forget that Diego caused his mother’s death, and was not present for the reunion of the baby with his father. Will the baby go on a revenge mission to kill a saber cub, and cause this cycle of botched revenge missions to continue into infinity?

The unansweredness of all of these questions can also be read generously: is the point being made that you should do difficult things even if you aren’t sure that they are the right thing to do, or if you might suffer down the road because you did them, because right now in the present it is the right thing to do to save a human baby?

Maybe. We don’t know.

Also what was up with Sid’s little tour of the rudimentary Natural History Museum there?

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