If anything signaled the end of Disney’s dominance in the feature-length animated-film department, as well as the rise of computer-animated films over traditionally hand-drawn animated films, it was the release, ten years ago, of Ice Age.
Prior to that, most of the major cartoons — the successful ones, that is — were produced by Disney, distributed by Disney or, in the case of DreamWorks, produced by former Disney people who were either imitating Disney’s style (a la The Prince of Egypt) or mocking it (a la Shrek).* But Ice Age changed all that: produced by Fox, it borrowed at least some of its sensibility from the old Warner Brothers cartoons — certainly where the hapless Wile E. Coyote-like Scrat was concerned — and its makers didn’t seem to have Disney on the brain at all. And audiences still flocked to it anyway.
And just to drive the point home, that audiences no longer felt any special affection for the Disney brand per se, Disney released two of its own films later that year, one of which (Lilo & Stitch) was fairly successful, though not as big a success as Ice Age, while the other (Treasure Planet) was an outright flop.
In the years since then, Ice Age has become a familiar, if not overfamiliar, part of the pop-culture landscape. The second and third films did a little more business in North America than the first one did, but none of them cracked the $200 million barrier that is routinely broken by Pixar and even some DreamWorks and Universal films now. Overseas, however, it’s another story.
Three years ago, I noted that Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, the third film in the series, had become the top-grossing animated film of all time overseas. Not long afterwards, it went on to become the third-highest-grossing movie of all time, period, overseas — behind only Titanic (1997) and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003).The film has since been passed by five other films overseas, so it now ranks only eighth on that list, but it remains the top-grossing cartoon ever overseas; and, once you add the North American figures, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs is still beaten on the worldwide list by only two other animated films, namely Toy Story 3 (2010) and The Lion King (1994) — the latter of which only got that high because it had a phenomenally popular 3D re-release last year.
So it will be interesting to see how the fourth film in this series, Ice Age: Continental Drift, performs this year. It won’t be in North American theatres for another two weeks, but it has already been released in a number of countries internationally, and, according to Deadline Hollywood, it is “already breaking records overseas”.
Time will tell just what sort of legs it has.
* Attention should also be paid to Don Bluth, who had a few big hits in the ’80s — notably An American Tail (1986) and The Land before Time (1988) — at a time when Disney was struggling and had not yet achieved its “renaissance”. But Bluth, like the folks who started DreamWorks, was a former Disney person; and by the time computer animation came along, most of Bluth’s recent films had been flops, with the modest exception of Anastasia (1997).