'We just love throwing our heroes into environments that they can't handle'
The latest chapter in the Ice Age 'chilogy' is out of this world - literally. Gemma Dunn talks with the team behind the animated blockbusters to discover Scrat and co's latest adventures, this time out in space.
It's 14 years since Ice Age - the die-hard animated film that follows a group of mammals in their quest to survive the Pleistocene period - first scurried and slid on to screens. But with its fifth chapter, Ice Age: Collision Course, warming in the wings, the franchise is far from extinct.
Rooted in the mythology of the original instalment, producer Lori Forte, who's been on board since the start and whose ideas have sparked several of the storylines, says of the latest epic: "In the first film, there was a scene where the herd passes through a kind of ice 'museum', where we see a prehistoric fish, a dinosaur, the evolution of Sid, and then a spacecraft or flying saucer.
"We always recognised that the spaceship was intriguing and knew there was some kind of mythology attached to it that we'd someday explore, but at that time, we didn't know exactly what it was," she continues excitedly.
"So we decided the time was right to come back around to that piece of Ice Age, and sowed the seeds for Collision Course."
Making a welcome return is Scrat, the manic squirrel voiced by Chris Wedge (Epic, Robots) who, still in pursuit of that elusive acorn, is catapulted into the universe, where he accidentally sets off a series of cosmic events that transform and threaten the Ice Age world.
To save themselves, regulars Sid, Manny and Diego, and the rest of the herd, must leave their home and embark on a quest full of comedy and adventure, as they travel to exotic new lands - one being a crystallised world known as Geotopia - and encounter a host of colourful new characters.
"Scrat is pretty much responsible for the expansion of the universe as we know it. It's his version of the Big Bang," explains Forte.
And this is typical Scrat action.
"I see so much potential with what you can do with Scrat," notes co-director Michael Thurmeier, who embraced the opportunity to find a unique new environment for the energetic creature. "He's become a true classic animated character. Scrat never stops persevering, no matter what happens to him."
Tipped to be the biggest and most ambitious Ice Age movie yet, Forte has no qualms in the film's ability to up the stakes for audiences worldwide. But at the heart of it, as always, is the herd's ability to triumph and adapt to a world that's always in flux.
"We take our family of characters further than we've ever seen before," she enthuses.
"We have a great time seeing how far we can push the characters, their world, and the obstacles they must overcome. And we love throwing our heroes into environments they're not yet equipped to handle. The herd is always evolving. As the world around them transforms, they must change as well."
But while Scrat is off playing pinball with the planets, Manny (the iconic woolly mammoth, voiced by Everybody Loves Raymond's Ray Romano) faces his own Earth-shattering development, when his beloved daughter Peaches (Keke Palmer) drops the bombshell that she's getting married to Julian (Adam Devine).
"The asteroid heading toward Earth is the equivalent of Manny's future son-in-law Julian coming into the mammoth's life," confirms Thurmeier.
Fellow co-director Galen T Chu agrees: "Manny sees that as a threat. She (Peaches) is not only getting married; she and her soon-to-be hubby Julian are moving away to begin their lives as a couple."
And this is something many of the team can relate to.
"I'm a dad with two young girls, and when I look at Manny, I see my future," Thurmeier confesses with a smile. "My girls are going to grow up and get married, and that's obviously a fact of life. Hopefully, I'll learn from Manny's mistakes."
Romano, an integral cast member alongside Queen Latifah, who has played his on-screen wife Ellie since 2006's Ice Age 2: The Meltdown, can also relate.
"I have a daughter who's around the same age as Peaches," says the 58-year-old funnyman and actor. "As a dad, it's bittersweet. You want your daughter to be happy and to find somebody special, and yet you think whoever she does find isn't going to be good enough for her - and that's who Manny is. He knows Julian is not a bad guy, but that doesn't mean he gets to marry Peaches. Julian has to prove himself to Manny, and Manny has to learn to accept that his daughter is moving on to this next phase of her life. And it's not easy - I know that from experience."
Meanwhile, Sid, the unlucky sloth voiced by John Leguizamo is on the quest for love; Diego, the once macho sabre-toothed tiger (Denis Leary) is yearning for a family with his love Shira (Jennifer Lopez), and, true to form, daredevil possum brothers Crash and Eddie (Seann William Scott and Josh Peck) are causing trouble alongside their hero Buck -Simon Pegg's slightly off-kilter weasel.
While global audiences will recognise this line-up, there are a few new faces too. Joining the franchise, among others, are British singer Jessie J as giggling sloth Brooke; Modern Family's Jesse Tyler Ferguson as chief Geotopian Shrangi Llama; Good Morning America's Michael Strahan as helpful bunny Teddy, and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson as Neil deBuck Weasel.
And despite the upheavals that warrant the 'collision' concept, the steadfast appeal is always family, declare the film-makers.
"The films are about a group of disparate characters who found each other and created a family," notes Forte. "That connection keeps expanding and evolving, and that resonates with audiences. You don't have to be related by blood to be family."
- Ice Age: Collision Course is in cinemas from today