Kid movie beatdown

In a fight between Pixar’s Up and Ice Age 3, who would win?

I don’t always like kids. I understand, however, that it’s a mistake to underestimate them. The little folks are canny. They can tell when they’re being spoken down to.

So does Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs underestimate its audience? Does Up overestimate it?

What we have here are two different ways of considering childhood. Up is full of big ideas and big feelings. Whimsical as it is, its portrayal of mourning and the profound loneliness of old age heads straight for the limits of what we’re accustomed to in children’s entertainment. It has taken off its kiddie gloves. Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, on the other hand, has its gloves strapped on tight.

These days people have started to realize that Pixar doesn’t just make kid movies—they tell stories. Big-hearted, big-idea stories. Children, with their innate love for narrative, are naturally along for the ride.

Up is Pixar’s best film yet. It’s a film of surprising depth and breadth. The iconic floating house becomes the best kind of literary symbol—easily identified, but never overstated. At first a dream realized, then a means of escape, the house eventually becomes like the Ancient Mariner’s albatross. The old man bears it like he bears his memories and his grief. Earthbound, tethered to it, his inability to be free is almost the ruin of him.

Up is, among many other things, a film about the unhealthiness of obsession, the need to live in the moment, the importance of adventure, of valuing human connection, etc, etc, etc. It’s one of those rare, joyous things—a film that works on every level. People will be watching and loving this film for years to come.

But if Up is an escape from dullness, Ice Age 3 feels like a weird pantomime of an early 90s family sitcom. That’s a real triumph for bleah, considering it’s full of mammoths and sabretooth tigers in a freaking Jules Verne/Arthur Conan Doyle 3D technicolor mash-up.

It’s not bad, per se, unless you consider unremarkable humour and perfunctory action sequences bad. But it’s all veneer, all stock characters and all predictable plots, with Ray Romano droning and Queen Latifah giving girl-sass. It’s the most unremarkable bits of our society smooshed into a fine warm paste and spoon-fed us back.

So will the latest Ice Age entertain the kids? Well, sure. Will it change how a person thinks and feels about the world? Will a person be richer for having seen it? No, and no. Yes, the finer points of Up might pass some kids by, but, like the film, I prefer not to assume that they just can’t understand.

Michael Collins