New frontiers can sometimes be a good change for a series that’s seen two decades of action. Now a part of the ecosystem created by the Disney/Fox merger, director John C. Donkin’s The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild is the latest entry in the Ice Age franchise created by the now defunct Blue Sky Studios – and it also happens to be the first chapter to debut on a streaming service. The movie looking to lay down a new path for future adventures, it appears that a new age has dawned for these creatures we’ve followed for some time now… but if only that promise was realized. Even with the components for a unique adventure, this Ice Age tale’s charms melt rather quickly.
Even with the ups and downs that the Ice Age films have taken, the series has always been about enduring love and friendship and the importance of those bonds in the face of enormous peril. It’s the formula that’s made the franchise a hit with children and adults alike, and The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild absolutely follows that road map. This time out, it’s possum brothers Crash (Vincent Tong) and Eddie (Aaron Harris) who kick off the adventure, as the rambunctious twosome strike out into the wilderness, trying to make a life for themselves separate from our usual pack of characters.
Because of this new adventure, we’re reintroduced to the titular Buck Wild (Simon Pegg), an unhinged English weasel, and the three are embroiled in a caper that involves a megalomaniacal triceratops named Orson (Utkarsh Ambudkar). Looking to take over the lost paradise that Buck calls home, the eponymous hero is going to have to get crafty with his reunited friends, while also welcoming back Zee (Justina Machado), a figure from his past. It’s standard heroic kids fare that doesn’t rise too far above that specific marker.
Back for its sixth film entry, Ice Age plays it way too safe with The Ice Age Adventures Of Buck Wild.
If one were to judge The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild on its title alone, it would be assumed that this film would specifically focus on Buck Wild. That is a notion that fans need to get out of their head before attempting to take this trip, however. The titular character doesn’t show up until after the original Ice Age characters are reintroduced and the Crash and Eddie story is set up. By the time Buck enters the picture, it still feels like he’s playing sidekick to the legacy that came before him. With ambitions of building an Ice Age storytelling universe clearly drawn on the cave walls, it’s just a bit surprising that so much focus is paid on the core group of characters when Buck Wild is supposed to be the center.
Rather than branching out, it feels like there was a compulsion to shoehorn as much of the old gang as possible, which splits the story at the most inopportune times. Just as the earlier act of The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild leans too heavily on Sid (Jake Green), Diego (Skyler Stone), Manny (Sean Kenin), and Ellie (Dominique Jennings), that choice rears its head again during what’s supposed to be a climactic third act; and the movie pays for that choice.
You can feel the Ice Age saga wanting to move on, which would have been served just perfectly fine by focusing on Simon Pegg’s adventurous weasel protagonist. The short bits of this sequel that do work are partially because of his commitment to the comedy and experience with the character. If you were going to choose a supporting character to actually branch out with, Buck Wild is the best choice from the canon; and Pegg’s performance only proves it.
New characters could have made for an interesting contrast with returning favorites, but the action is fairly predictable.
What’s more, the new characters that are introduced are compelling foils to Buck’s swashbuckling lifestyle, and it makes The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild’s odd story choices even more frustrating. Enlisting both Utkarsh Ambudkar as a cross between a gangster and Bond villain with Raptor henchmen and Justina Machado as Zee, a stealthy Zorilla who’s also one of Buck’s former “superhero squad” partners, are two more steps towards what this movie does right in its execution.
Make no mistake, this isn’t a long movie by any stretch. Clocking in at just under an hour and a half, this could have been a breezy action caper that provided a proper set up for the various sequels and series that have been whispered about as future Ice Age projects. There’s still a part of me that wants to learn about the former teammates, as well as see a return of both Orson and Zee in Buck’s new life as a responsible adventurer.
Even with the plot’s shortcomings, the cast is still having a blast putting together the pieces that make up The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild. Simon Pegg and Justina Machado especially make a formidable team, thanks to their chemistry in this animated setting. If more time was spent on building up new potential, rather than old connections, a fresh adventure could have been had by all.
Disney clearly wants to keep the Ice Age series going, which makes this entry’s lack of focus even more disappointing.
Over the past 20 years, the Ice Age series has been a periodic fixture that built an animated legacy for both Blue Sky Studios and 20th Century Fox. With both entities absorbed into the Disney family, the studio is clearly looking to keep the wheels turning in the name of creating further adventures to wow families in the streaming world. The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild is not a successful template for that future, as the story is underdeveloped, and the animation has sadly slipped in quality this time out.
Loyal fans may even have a hard time watching this outing, as for a movie that is supposed to be highlighting the legacy of the Ice Age past, not one of the original core voices – including Ray Romano, Denis Leary, John Leguizamo, and Queen Latifah – has returned. After spending so much time with these fondly remembered characters, it’s more than a little jarring to hear soundalikes trying to fill their prints. Come to think of it, The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild calls to mind another Disney tradition: the age of direct-to-video sequels.
Still, even that enterprise had its examples of excellence. Streaming is a new frontier for the Ice Age gang, and the original cinematic branch even had its growing pains. While I can’t recommend The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild, I also can’t ignore the kernels of promise that it holds. (One such joy is the absolutely lush score from Batu Sener’s debut as a solo feature film composer.) There’s still some warmth in reuniting with old friends, and meeting new characters of mysterious origins. Maybe next time, the adventures will be fresher and the risks bolder; but for now, the Ice Age franchise has just marched itself a little closer to extinction, and with nary a Scrat joke to show for it.