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Director: Chris Wedge
Release Date: March 11, 2005
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Robots © Blue Sky2005 was to be the first weak year in the history of computer animated features. This was a year in which no films were made that felt as if they were better than the last ones.

In fact, both Blue Sky’s ‘Robots’ and Dreamworks’s ‘Madagascar’ are mediocre in the whole catalog of computer animation. Surprisingly, the two most interesting features of 2005 were stop motion films: Aardman’s ‘Wallace and Gromit and the Curse of the Were-Rabbit‘ and Warner Brothers’ ‘Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride‘. This age-old technique defeated the modernity of computer animation, as both films topped the computer animated features in originality and consistency of story and design.

‘Robots’ is unfortunately typical for the regression in the computer animated field. First the animation: the robots are a good excuse for rather jerky motions, and its colorful setting never feels real. This setting is similar to that of ‘Monsters, Inc.‘ (2001): a totally different world, this time inhabited with robots, which at the same time is an exact copy of our own modern urban world. Also, main protagonist Rodney’s arrival in Robot City is very reminiscent of a similar scene in ‘A Bug’s Life’ (1998), and the all too obligatory ‘follow your dream’ story line had already become stale by 2005, too. In all, the film’s story is much more standard than its exotic setting would suggest.

Blue Sky’s storytelling is also very inconsistent and has many flaws in its timing. For example, the big finale never pays off and his topped by a very cloying ending. Worse, Rodney has no less than two love interests, one of which is suddenly dropped, while the love between him and Cappy, the other, is hardly shown. In effect it seems non-existent. Then there are way too many side characters, none of which is well-developed. Most of them are wise-crackers, who place their one-liners in a nasty, unpleasant way. Robin Williams’s character Fender is as tiresome as his genie was delightful in ‘Aladdin’ (1992). Even Rodney’s hero Bigwald is unappealing in his first scene. And it remains unclear why he has retreated in the first place.

All these flaws are such a pity, for one can feel the great joy in the making of ‘Robots’, especially in the transport sequence, where Rodney and Fender are travelling in a giant Rube Goldberg machine. This scene, although unimportant to the story, is the highlight of this otherwise very disappointing film.

Unfortunately, 2006 would be hardly better, with Blue Sky’s weak  ‘Ice Age 2: The Meltdown’, and the entertaining, but a little too routine films ‘Over The Hedge‘, ‘Flushed Away’ (Dreamworks) and ‘Open Season‘ (Sony’s debut in the field). Even Pixar would release its then weakest picture with ‘Cars’…

Watch the trailer for ‘Robots’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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Director: Chris Wedge
Release Date: March 15, 2002
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Ice Age © Blue SkySet in the last ice age (ca. 20,000 years ago), a mammoth and a ground sloth try to return a human baby to its tribe, helped by a saber-toothed tiger with a hidden agenda.

The Ice Age itself is depicted well, with lots of crispy ice and snow, and fauna that matches the period. We watch various North-American ice age mammals, like mammoths, ground sloths, saber-toothed tigers, Glyptodonts, and even the South American species Macrauchenia (which looks like a llama with a trunk). The only mishaps are the two Brontotheres, mistakenly referred to as “rhinos”, a group of species that had died out 34 million years earlier. Fortunately, the makers didn’t fall for the trap of making dinosaurs co-exist with early humans (although we see one trapped in the ice, in a scene that is nonsensical anyhow).

‘Ice Age’ was Blue Sky’s first feature film. It was made for 20th Century Fox, who had just dumped Don Bluth’s Phoenix Studio. With this film Blue Sky/20th Century Fox posed serious competition to Dreamworks and Pixar with a different, yet equally interesting style of computer animation, which was more based on caricature, exaggerated animation and angular designs. The latter unfortunately lead to rather ugly designed humans.

The story of ‘Ice Age’ has uncanny similarities to the computer animation successes of 2001, ‘Shrek’ (a moody giant and an annoying chatterbox travel together), and ‘Monsters, Inc.‘ (strange creatures trying to get a little human kid home). So in this respect, the film tells us nothing new. Its extras can be found in the cartoony character Scrat, whose antics bridges the main action, and in the numerous gags on evolution.

The highlight of the film, however, is the 2D animation of mural paintings depicting Mannie the mammoth’s painful memory of the loss of his wife and son. This is a stunning tour-de-force of both daring and emotional animation, still a rare feat in computer animated feature films.

‘Ice Age’ was a huge success, and has spawned a number of sequels, none of witch mastered to keep the lean storytelling of the first film. Moreover, the stories had less and less to do with the ice age setting. Even worse, in ‘Ice Age 3’ dinosaurs had to come along, after all…

Watch the trailer for ‘Ice Age’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Chris Wedge
Release Date: 1998
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Bunny © Blue SkyAn elderly bunny tries to bake a cake, when she’s being disturbed by a giant moth.

After a wild chase the moth falls into the cake mix and she angrily bakes the insect with it. At this point the film takes a remarkable turn…

With Pixar’s ‘Geri’s Game’ (1997), ‘Bunny’ is one of the first computer animated shorts that make you forget you’re watching a computer animated film. With its quite original story and its beautiful execution, it transcends the medium, and its deservedly won the Oscar for best animated short in 1998.

Chris Wedge and his Blue Sky studio (founded in 1987, by Tron-alumni) later moved on to produce feature length computer-animated films, becoming the fourth American studio to do so, after Pixar, PDI/Dreamworks and DNA Productions. It would be especially successful with its Ice Age films. However, none of the sequential Blue Sky films would reach the emotional depths of this gentle little short.

Watch ‘Bunny’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Bunny’ is available on the DVD ‘Ice Age’

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