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The Ultimate Blue Sky Studios Animated Film Guide: 2002-2009

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The Ultimate Blue Sky Studios Animated Film Guide
2002-2009 | 2010-2014

Blue Sky Studios is a computer animation company owned by 20th Century Fox that has created one of the most successful computer-animated film franchises of all time. To date its films can be divided into two: films in the hugely successful Ice Age series and Blue Sky Studios' other work, including the two films in the Rio series. Blue Sky makes its films on a much smaller budget than rivals Disney, Pixar and DreamWorks, yet this has not affected their films' quality, popularity or success.

Forming of Blue Sky Studios

Blue Sky Studios can trace its beginning to a computer animation company called MAGI (Mathematical Applications Group, Inc), a computer animation company founded in 1972, that in 1982 was hired to provide half of the effects for Disney's film Tron1. After MAGI shut down in 1986, six former employees2 decided to found their own computer animation company. Thus in early 1987 Blue Sky Studios was formed. At first they concentrated on making adverts, and won an award for a razor commercial which enabled them to progress to providing effects for films such as Alien Resurrection (1997) and Fight Club (1999).

In 1997 20th Century Fox acquired a stake in the company, hoping to use it as their effects department. Desperate to originate their own work, in their spare time the Blue Sky team made a short film called Bunny about a cantankerous rabbit trying to cook in her kitchen, only to be bothered by an annoying moth. It won the 1998 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. Following this success, 20th Century Fox bought the remainder of Blue Sky Studios in 1999. Fox had ambitious plans hoping to rival Disney's success, although their own animation studio, Fox Animation Studios, made only two films3 and allowed Blue Sky to make their first full-length animated film, Ice Age.

1. Ice Age (2002)

DirectorsChris Wedge with Carlos Saldanha
PlotWhile most animals migrate south to avoid the Ice Age and find food, a pack of sabre-toothed cats attack a Neanderthal camp, hoping to eat the chief's baby. The baby's mother flees with the baby, before dying next to two mammals; Manny, who believes himself to be the last surviving mammoth, and Sid, an annoying sloth. They decide to return the baby to its people and are joined by Diego, a sabre-toothed tiger who claims to be tracking the baby's father but secretly plans to lure the group into a trap prepared by his pack. Meanwhile a sabre-toothed squirrel called Scrat tries desperately hard to get an acorn.
Length81 minutes
SettingEarth circa 20000 BC, during the Ice Age
Characters
  • Manfred 'Manny', a woolly mammoth (Ray Romano)
  • Diego, a sabre-toothed tiger or Smilodon (Denis Leary)
  • Sid, a ground sloth (John Leguizamo)
  • Scrat, a (fictional) sabre-toothed squirrel (Chris Wedge)
  • Roshan, a Neanderthal baby
  • Soto, Zeke, Lenny and Oscar, sabre-toothed cats (Goran Višnjić, Jack Black, Alan Tudyk and Diedrich Bader)
  • Carl and Frank, Brontops (prehistoric rhino) (Cedric the Entertainer and Stephen Root)
  • Rachel and Jennifer, ground sloths (Jane Krakowski and Lorri Bagley)
Others in the Series
  • 3. Ice Age: The Meltdown (2006)
  • 5. Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (2009)
  • 7. Ice Age: Continental Drift (2012)
  • 11. Ice Age: Collision Course (2016)
Spin Offs
  • Gone Nutty (2002)
  • No Time for Nuts (2006)
  • Surviving Sid (2008)
  • Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas (2011)
  • Cosmic Scrat-tastrophe (2015)
  • Ice Age: The Great Egg-Scapade (2016)
  • Scrat: Spaced Out (2016)

Ice Age was only the ninth American computer animated film4. With a plot in which a varied group of prehistoric animals undertake a journey together, the story shares similarities with the Don Bluth-directed The Land Before Time (1988) and Disney's Dinosaur released a year earlier, only with beasts rather than dinosaurs, with an added emphasis on comedy. Don Bluth had in fact been strongly considered to direct Ice Age until he refused due to his dislike of CGI.

Originally the plan had been to make a dramatic adventure. When the decision was made to change the tone to a comedy, it was realised that although humorous lines could be added to the script, there was nothing funny about the story of a baby separated from his parents. The character of Scrat was able to introduce some humour. Originally Scrat was a minor character who appeared only in an introduction sequence, added when the film was nearing completion, to ensure the first scene of the film featured the power and majesty of the ice. As Scrat proved popular with test audiences, his role was greatly expanded.

Hugely successful, at time of release it was briefly the second-most successful computer-animated film so far behind Toy Story 2, although it was overtaken by Shrek. Despite this it was the most successful animated film of 2001, beating Disney's Lilo & Stitch, Return to Never Land and Treasure Planet as well as DreamWorks Animation's Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. This demonstrated that Blue Sky could compete with more well-established studios. The film was nominated for the 2002 Academy Award for Best Animated Film, but lost to Hayao Miyazaki's masterpiece Spirited Away. This is the only Oscar-nominated full-length Blue Sky Studios film to date.

2. Robots (2005)

DirectorChris Wedge
PlotYoung inventor Rodney Copperbottom dreams of travelling to Robot City and impressing his hero Bigweld with his invention. Yet when he arrives he discovers that Robot City is divided between the rich and shiny and the rusting poor. Bigweld himself has vanished, Bigweld Industries has been taken over and is now controlled by Ratchet, who plans to stop selling spare parts. This means that all the robots will have no choice but to pay for his expensive upgrades – if not they will be labelled outmodes and melted down in the chop shop. Can Rodney find Bigweld and somehow save the day?
Length90 minutes
SettingRural Rivet Town and metropolis Robot City, in a world inhabited by robots
Robots
  • Rodney Copperbottom, a young aspiring inventor (Ewan McGregor)
  • Cappy, shiny executive at Bigweld Industries and love interest (Halle Berry)
  • Fender Pinwheeler, outmoded robot (Robin Williams)
  • Bigweld, inventor and former owner of Bigweld Industries (Mel Brooks)
  • Phineas T Ratchet, now controlling Bigweld Industries (Greg Kinnear)
  • Madame Gasket, fearsome tyrant ruler of the Chop Shop (Jim Broadbent)
  • Piper Pinwheeler, Fender's younger sister (Amander Bynes)
  • Aunt Fanny, motherly figure who adopts homeless robots (Jennifer Coolidge)
  • Herb and Lydia Copperbottom, Rodney's parents (Stanley Tucci & Dianne Wiest)
  • Crank Casey and Lugnut (Drew Carey and Harland Williams, )
  • Loretta Geargrinder, Bigweld receptionist (UK: Cat Deeley, US: Natasha Lyonne)
  • Tim, Bigweld gate guard (Paul Giamatti)
  • Mr Gasket, Ratchett's father (UK: Sir Terry Wogan, US: Lowell Ganz)
Music
  • 'Silence' by Ian Ball, Paul Blackburn, Tom Gray, Ben Ottewell and Oliver Peacock (as Olly Peacock)
  • 'Shine' by Ricky Fanté, Josh Deutsch, Kevin Kadish and Andrew Wyatt
  • 'Right Thurr' by Howard 'Chingy' Bailey), Alonzo E Lee, Jr, and Shamar D Daugherty
  • 'Walkie Talkie Man' by Jared Wrennall, Tyson Kennedy, Jacob Adams, Tim Youngson and Brad Carter
  • 'I Like That' by Shamar D Daugherty, Alonzo E Lee Jr, Mischke, Houston Summers, Howard 'Chingy' Bailey, Nathaniel 'Nate Dogg' Hale, Bobby Sandimanie and Steve Prudholme
  • '(There's Gotta Be) More To Life' by Harvey Mason Jr, Damon E Thomas, Sabelle Breer, Kevin Kadish and Lucy Woodward
  • 'Tell Me What You Already Did' by Adam Schlesinger
  • 'Love's Dance' by James Samuel Harris III, Terry Lewis and Tony L Tolbert
  • 'Low Rider' by Thomas 'Sylvester' Allen, Harold R Brown, Morris D Dickerson, Lonnie 'Leroy' Jordan, Charles Miller, Lee Oskar, Howard Scott and Jerry Goldstein
  • 'A Bicycle Built For Two' by Harry Dacre
  • 'Get Up Offa That Thing' by Deanna Brown, Deidra Jenkins and Yamma Brown
  • 'Pomp and Circumstance' by Sir Edward Elgar
Spin Off
  • Aunt Fanny's Tour of Booty (2005 short film)

Robots is a fun film filled with ambition. Many of the scenes, sequences and scenery are breathtaking, and the voice cast, combining Ewan McGregor, Robin Williams in his first animated voice role since playing the Genie in Aladdin, Halle Berry and Sir Terry Wogan, is simply stellar. Having announced their presence with Ice Age, Blue Sky Studios made Robots cram-packed with details, jokes and cameos (including a robotic Sid from Ice Age) that repeat watching is certainly rewarded. Aimed at an older audience than Ice Age, it did not make as much money, yet it was still the third most successful animated film of the year following DreamWorks Animation's Madagascar and Disney's Chicken Little, ahead of Aardman's Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and Tim Burton's Corpse Bride.

3. Ice Age: The Meltdown (2006)

DirectorCarlos Saldanha
PlotScrat's attempts to bury an acorn in a glacier inadvertently causes it to crack and the water inside to leak, the first sign that the ice is melting and the Ice Age may be over. With the glaciers melting and the Earth about to be flooded, all the animals in the nearby area are under threat of drowning unless they can make it to a giant tree that will act as an ark. On their journey, Manny, who has long believed himself to be the last mammoth, encounters a female mammoth named Ellie, who believes she is an opossum and the adopted sister of two opossum twins. Is Sid a sloth god? Will the herd escape the floods and avoid the prehistoric aquatic reptiles that are hunting them?
Length91 minutes
SettingEarth circa 20000 BC, during the Ice Age
Characters
  • Manfred 'Manny', a woolly mammoth (Ray Romano)
  • Diego, a sabre-toothed tiger or Smilodon (Denis Leary)
  • Sid, a giant sloth (John Leguizamo)
  • Scrat, a fictional sabre-toothed squirrel (Chris Wedge)
  • Ellie, a mammoth who believes she is an opossum (Queen Latifah)
  • Crash and Eddie, opossum brothers (Seann William Scott and Josh Peck)
  • Lone Gunslinger, a vulture (Will Arnett)
Others in the Series
  • 1. Ice Age (2002)
  • 5. Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (2009)
  • 7. Ice Age: Continental Drift (2012)
  • 11. Ice Age: Collision Course (2016)
Spin Offs
  • Gone Nutty (2002)
  • No Time for Nuts (2006)
  • Surviving Sid (2008)
  • Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas (2011)
  • Cosmic Scrat-tastrophe (2015)
  • Ice Age: The Great Egg-Scapade (2016)
  • Scrat: Spaced Out (2016)

Also called Ice Age 2: The Meltdown, this sequel made Ice Age into the third computer-animated film series after Toy Story and Shrek. At the time of writing the five films in the Ice Age series are the second most successful animated film series after the Shrek films. This film combines prehistoric creatures with the story of Noah's Ark, while many of the sequences featuring Scrat were based on ideas proposed for him in the first film. The film also features two surviving sea reptiles from the time of the dinosaurs, an ichthyosaur and a pliosaur, which would tie in with the next film in the series.

Technically the main characters are more lifelike than in the first film, with their fur being much more realistic. As characters, the recurrence of Manny, Diego and Sid also gel together more than in previous films and interact well with Ellie, the girl with the brain of an opossum and the body of a mammoth.

Another huge box office hit, Ice Age: The Meltdown was the most successful animated film of 2006, beating Pixar's Cars, Animal Logic's Happy Feet, DreamWorks Animation's Over the Hedge, Sony Animation's Open Season and ImageMovers' Monster House.

4. Dr Seuss' Horton Hears a Who! (2008)

DirectorsJimmy Hayward & Steve Martino
PlotHorton the elephant hears a voice coming from a tiny speck. After learning that this comes from the mayor of Whoville, a city on the speck, Horton decides to take the speck somewhere safe. Yet a kangaroo feels that Horton's belief in something that she cannot see or hear undermines her authority, and she will stop at nothing to destroy it.
Length86 minutes
SettingWhoville, a city on a world that is actually a tiny speck on a clover in the Forest of Nool
Characters in the Jungle of Nool
  • Horton the Elephant, caring teacher taking the speck to safety (Jim Carrey)
  • Sour Kangaroo, who orders the speck's destruction (Carol Burnett)
  • Vlad Vladikoff, mercenary vulture (Will Arnett)
  • Morton the Mouse, Horton's best friend (Seth Rogen)
Characters in Whoville
  • Mayor Ned McDodd (Steve Carell)
  • Chairman of Whoville (Dan Fogler)
  • Dr Mary Lou LaRue of Who U (Isla Fisher)
  • Sally O'Malley, Mayor's wife and mother of JoJo (Amy Poehler)
  • JoJo, Sally and the mayor's son (Jesse McCartney)
MusicSoundtrack by John Powell.
  • 'Can't Fight this Feeling' by Kevin Cronin

Based on the 1954 story by Dr Seuss and called both Dr Seuss' Horton Hears a Who! and simply Horton Hears a Who!, this is a charming tale which informs us that a person is a person, no matter how small5. This was the first computer-animated Dr Seuss story and it followed two live-action Seuss adaptations, The Grinch (2000) which also starred Jim Carrey and featured the Whos of Whoville, and The Cat in the Hat (2003).

This was the second Blue Sky film in a row starring Will Arnett as a vulture. A conscious decision was made to ensure that Horton the elephant was different to Manny the mammoth from the Ice Age series. This was accomplished by giving him a much more expressive mouth and ears that would fold into amusing shapes, as well as Horton occasionally walking on two legs.

There are frequent visual and spoken references to Dr Seuss' other books, especially Horton Hatches the Egg (1940). Another computer animated Dr Seuss story, The Lorax, was made in 2012, but this adaptation was by Illumination Entertainment rather than Blue Sky.

Overall Horton Hears a Who was another box office success and the fifth most successful animated film of the year, behind DreamWorks Animation's Kung Fu Panda and Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, Pixar's WALL·E and Disney's Bolt.

5. Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (2009)

DirectorsCarlos Saldanha & Mike Thurmeier
PlotManny is overprotective of Ellie while she is pregnant, a fear caused by his own family having been killed by hunters. Diego, struggling to catch prey, fears that he is no longer in his prime and considers leaving the herd. Sid also feels sidelined and decides to adopt three eggs he believes have been abandoned, only for them to turn out to be Tyrannosaurus eggs. When their mother takes her babies and Sid back to her home in a vast underground cavern, Manny, Ellie, Diego, Crash and Eddie follow to rescue him. They discover a lost world full of dinosaurs and encounter a lone one-eyed weasel named Buck, who is obsessed with hunting the white dinosaur that took his eye.
Length94 minutes
SettingEarth circa 20000 BC, during the Ice Age
Characters
  • Manfred 'Manny', a woolly mammoth (Ray Romano)
  • Diego, a sabre-toothed tiger or Smilodon (Denis Leary)
  • Sid, a giant sloth (John Leguizamo)
  • Scrat, a fictional sabre-toothed squirrel (Chris Wedge)
  • Ellie, a woolly mammoth (Queen Latifah)
  • Crash and Eddie, opossums (Seann William Scott and Josh Peck)
  • Buck, a one-eyed weasel (Simon Pegg)
  • Scratte, a female sabre-toothed squirrel (Karen Disher)
  • Peaches, baby woolly mammoth
  • Rudy, a giant Baryonyx dinosaur
Others in the Series
  • 1. Ice Age (2002)
  • 3. Ice Age: The Meltdown (2006)
  • 7. Ice Age: Continental Drift (2012)
  • 11. Ice Age: Collision Course (2016)
Spin Offs
  • Gone Nutty (2002)
  • No Time for Nuts (2006)
  • Surviving Sid (2008)
  • Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas (2011)
  • Cosmic Scrat-tastrophe (2015)
  • Ice Age: The Great Egg-Scapade (2016)
  • Scrat: Spaced Out (2016)

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs is another highly enjoyable chapter in the series, in which the characters are taken out of the Ice Age and out of their comfort zones, and so find their place in the herd. The film deals with how change impacts on a group of friends who despite not always getting on, nevertheless are willing to go through anything for each other. As Manny worries about becoming a father, Sid proves that he has what it takes to be a parent, echoing how it was caring for a young baby that brought them together in the first place. The film also contains lots of highly enjoyable dinosaur action in which their vast size makes even the mammoths seem small and Diego tame in comparison.

The third film in the Ice Age series was also the third Blue Sky film to top the most successful animated film of the year chart. It beat Pixar's Up, DreamWorks Animation's Monsters vs Aliens, Disney/ImageMovers Digital's A Christmas Carol, Disney's The Princess and the Frog, Sony Pictures Animation's Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Laika's Coraline.

By the end of the decade Blue Sky had shown they were capable of beating established studios like Disney, Pixar and DreamWorks Animation at the box office. Yet looking ahead in an increasingly competitive market, their biggest challenge was to make another film that could rival the success of Ice Age and prove they were not a one-hit wonder.

1These included the light cycle and tank sequences.2Alison Brown, David Brown (no relation), Michael Ferraro, Carl Ludwig, Dr Eugene Troubetzkoy and Chris Wedge.3The very successful Anastasia (1997) and the disastrous flop Titan AE (2000), both directed by Don Bluth.4Following Pixar's Toy Story (1995) DreamWorks' Antz (1998), Pixar's A Bug's Life (1998) and Toy Story 2 (1999), Disney's part-CGI Dinosaur (2000), Pixar's Monsters, Inc (2001), DreamWorks' Shrek and Nickelodeon's Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius (2001).5Although this was later used as an anti-abortion slogan, much to Dr Seuss' widow Audrey Geisel's distress.

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