Ice Age Live! A Mammoth Adventure: Theater Review
Fox’s hugely successful animated comedy series about prehistoric animals spawns an ambitious but flawed ice-skating stage musical.
Considering the four films in Twentieth Century Fox’s family-friendly animated franchise have grossed almost $3 billion between them, it was only a matter of time before Ice Age got the live-action musical treatment like The Lion King, Toy Story, Shrek and many others. Following its premiere at London’s cavernous Wembley Arena this weekend, this arena-sized family spectacle transfers to Germany later this month, with plans for a five-year international tour to follow.
Co-directed by Guy Caron and Michael Curry, whose past credits include Cirque du Soleil, the show incorporates giant animal puppets, human acrobats and ice-skating dance numbers. But anybody hoping that the zippy comedy and action-heavy animation of the Ice Age films might translate smoothly to the live-action arena will be disappointed by this hit-and-miss exercise in franchise-milking.
The plot is only tangentially related to the movies. It opens with cute baby mammoth Peaches being kidnapped by an evil hawk-like creature called Shadow, an all-new character in the Ice Age pantheon. Her father Manny sets off to rescue Peaches, aided by two other series regulars, the comedy sloth Sid and the saber-toothed smilodon cat Diego, with occasional cameo appearances from the super-sized squirrel Scrat. Their mission is successful, but on the way home the team encounter avalanches and rockfalls, diverting them into a kind of fantasy underground kingdom.
The character design is the most impressive aspect of Ice Age Live!, especially the three mammoths, giant constructions who move using a combination of internal human operators and animatronics. Several of the acrobatic musical numbers are also spectacular, particularly a quartet of dancing polar bears, a Bollywood-style set-piece inside a giant flower, and a team of arctic foxes whirling across the ice like vintage Busby Berkeley babes. None of these has much relevance to the plot, nor to the Ice Age films in general, but at least they add visual zing to a fairly slight story.
Otherwise, however, this production feels woefully basic for such a major movie spin-off. Framed by a broad arch of glacial ice, the uninspired stage backdrop is a series of almost interchangeable, digitally projected landscapes. The stage itself is a rectangular skating rink filling almost half the main floor of Wembley Arena, although most of the action takes place on a series of moving platforms on top of the ice. The musical score, a mix of anodyne soft-rock ballads and rousing orchestral tub-thumpers in sub-Elmer Bernstein mode, is adequate but unmemorable.
The Ice Age movies may not have the sly all-ages wit of the Toy Story franchise, but they are at least sharply scripted affairs. By contrast, the humor in Ice Age Live! is mostly a child-friendly brand of labored slapstick, with little for adults to enjoy unless you count a brief, veiled joke about marijuana. Unlike the movies, the story here feels sluggish and patchy, with no sense of jeopardy or emotional bite. It is also painfully thin, padded out with choreographed martial-arts fight scenes that appear to have been borrowed from an ancient Ninja Turtles movie. One of the most technically striking aerial stunts, when Shadow swoops down to steal Peaches away, should be a show-stopper. Instead it simply feels creaky, clunky and painfully slow.
But the most serious flaw with this London production was its poor sound quality. Certainly for those of us seated in the Arena’s upper tiers, the music was far too quiet and the dialogue very faint, almost inaudible at times. Dozens of nearby children were noticeably bored and fidgety - as young children tend to be, of course, but their disinterest was not helped by muffled acoustics. When this show rolls on to Germany and beyond, the team will need to tighten up these problems. As for the rest of the production, only a major overhaul might make it enjoyable to anybody over the age of eight.
Venue: Wembley Arena, London (Touring Germany from November 8 to February 7)
Directors: Guy Caron, Michael Curry
Book, Music & Lyrics: Ella Louise Allaire, Martin Lord Ferguson
Lighting Design: Luc Peumans
Set Design: David Shields
Presented by Twentieth Century Fox & Stage Entertainment Touring Productions