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An Interview with John C. Donkin & Lori Forte (The Ice Adventures Of Buck Wild)

Almost twenty years to the day since the first Ice Age steamrolled cinemas like a Paleolithic avalanche, a new adventure drops onto Disney+. It’s called The Ice Age Adventure of Buck Wild, bringing back the titular swashbuckling weasel voiced by Simon Pegg. He’s still in his beloved dinosaur underworld seen in the third film, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs. It was the biggest hit Ice Age film in cinemas, and it’s still the fifteenth highest-grossing animated film in history, so it’s hardly surprising Disney has brought the dino-world back.

In the new story, Buck must contend with the world’s smartest dinosaur (well, he says he is), the tyrannical big-brained Orson, voiced by Utkarsh Ambudkar. But to complicate things, Buck must look after two familiar faces, the possums Crash and Eddie, now voiced by Vincent Tong and Aaron Harris. They always seemed the most, ahem, useless characters in the Ice Age team, but following a row with their pack, the dumb duo is striking out in new directions. Will they be the death of Buck, or could they possibly be growing up?

Things have changed for the Ice Age franchise. It’s no longer animated by Blue Sky, which sadly closed last year, and Pegg is the only returning member of the voice cast. But the film is still overseen by two people who’ve steered the franchise since it started.

Executive Producer Lori Forte helped shape the original film. She produced it and the Ice Age sequels and spinoffs, as well as Blue Sky’s Epic and Ferdinand. John C. Donkin has a similar raft of production credits, including Blue Sky’s Rio films and Robots; he was an associate producer on the first Ice Age. More recently, he’s been a supervising producer on a very different animation, the adult superhero series Invincible.

Thanks to Disney, I could interview them both

AFA: The film is called The Adventures of Buck Wild, but when I saw it, I thought it could be seen as more the story of the possums Crash and Eddie. Whose story do you think it is?

Lori Forte – I think it’s really Crash and Eddie’s, and Ellie’s, story. As we all know, kids will grow up and leave home and it’s time for them to have their own adventures. And for the ones left behind, like Ellie, who’s Crash and Eddie’s (adopted) sister, she has to deal with how is she going to let these guys go; how could she ever think they could survive on their own? I think it’s Crash and Eddie’s story - they love Buck, and they find themselves in the lost underground world, and now it’s Buck who’s got to take care of them.

It’s also Buck’s movie too, because Buck is used to being alone, he’s been down there so long that he doesn’t know what it’s like to have anyone around, and now he’s got to make sure Crash and Eddie survive. He’s now sort of saddled with a little bit of a family. So he’s changing, Crash and Eddie are changing, it feels like it’s really the story of all three of them.

John Donkin – But the film does take place in Buck’s arena. It goes to his playground and we do learn more about Buck, by uncovering some layers and meeting a character from his past.

The fourth and fifth Ice Age films were about the girl mammoth Peaches growing up, and her father Manfred’s reluctance to let her go. (NB: Peaches isn’t in the new film.) This film seems to reverse that, with Manfred and Diego desperate to see the back of the possums! Would you agree it’s a reversal of the previous films?

LF– Not necessarily, because I don’t think anyone ever thought that Crash and Eddie would leave. I don’t think Manfred and Diego challenged the possums because they really thought they’d go through with it. I really think they were shocked by the fact that the possums actually did leave. And the possums actually fall into a hole (into the dinosaur world). I don’t know if it was their ‘choice’ or if they would have come home for dinner that night. It’s hard to say!

JD – I think it’s also a fun dynamic, with the curmudgeonly Manny being annoyed by his wife’s “brothers.” It’s like he’s saying, ‘Dudes, don’t you guys have a life of your own?” Whereas with Peaches, that was his daughter and there’s that direct fatherly protectiveness kicking in. But like Lori says, (Manfred’s comment to the possums) was a fun aside, kidding – ‘Don’t you guys have somewhere else better to be?’ And they took it to heart – ‘Maybe we do!’ For me, that was very much in the Ice Age realm, not personal

The film returns to the world that was seen in the third Ice Age film, Dawn of the Dinosaurs. Were you able to reuse any assets from that film, or were you building it all over again?

JD – We were not able to use any direct assets, other than some of the original concept designs, and of course the (Dawn of the Dinosaurs) film itself was a resource in terms of reference. But all of the modelling, all of the assets were created fresh for this production.

You had a team of about eighty animators – were a lot of them very new, or were some of them seasoned animators, and had any of them carried over from previous Ice Age films?

JD – There was nobody on this production who had animated the characters before. Like most productions, there was a range; people that had a fair amount of experience, those that are somewhat new to the industry. I know that in one case, there was a woman for whom this was her first production… The thing that I found most endearing was that virtually all of them knew the characters and some of them grew up with the characters as children, having seen them in Ice Age 1 or 2 or 3. They were all thrilled to be animating these characters. In some cases, they made decisions to become artists and animators because of the influence of Ice Age and other films.

It was sort of gratifying. I went to one animator to say that she was doing a great job animating Sid, she had really got him down, and she said when she was growing up, in second grade or something, Sid was her favourite character. She knew every line and she could quote them to her parents. So the chance for her to do Sid was great; she had really studied him.

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That’s brilliant. Obviously, the Ice Age franchise began a fair time ago, and you both have a long connection with it. People outside the industry might think that because CG movies have developed so much over the years, making an Ice Age film would get easier over time. What’s the reality?

JD – People think about the industry over the span of twenty years and think, Oh man, it must be so much easier now. But if you look even within the Ice Age franchise, it was quite simple at first, in terms of the styling and design. By the time you got to Ice Age 3 and 5, the level of sophistications of what the audiences wanted to see on the frame had got so high that it’s not any easier to make them. There are more resources, there’s more ability to do fantastical things.
The difficulty level, I would say, has remained the same. The challenges are just different. In the old days, it was like, ‘How are we going to do fire?’ and now it’s ‘How are we going to have Earth being smashed by a giant asteroid?’ or the ocean rolling in… We see that in live-action films as well. If you look at the visual effects that are up for the Oscars this year, for example, what they are able to do in those movies is astronomical, building entire environments all-CG. Whereas in the old days they’d just have to go out and film a car driving though a jungle; now they can do it all in CG.

Thanks to Disney UK for arranging the interview and providing a screener. The Ice Age Adventures Of Buck Wild streams from March 25 in the UK and is streaming now in the US.