The operative word in that last sentence? Classic. Most modern holiday specials echo the 'true' meaning of Christmas - Money. Instead of taking the time to craft a classic tale that is sure to light up children's hearts for generations to come, the Christmas specials of today are instead utilized to further a brand. The offender this year happens to be Ice Age - A Mammoth Christmas Special, a release that unsurprisingly comes mere months before the next theatrical installment of the Ice Age 'saga' is supposed to see the light of day.
Don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of the Ice Age film franchise. Despite the fact the films follow a formulaic trend in storytelling, the execution of each film has been successful in conveying a high level of fun that the entire family can enjoy. I'd even go as far to say that each subsequence Ice Age flick has been better than the last. You see, the same story can essentially be told time and time again... as long as the devices used to push that predictable plot along are fun and whimsical enough to keep the audience hooked for an hour and a half. With an hour and a half of wiggle room, there's a lot of variables that can be tweaked to make a 'by the numbers' sequel still seem fresh. Throughout this particular franchise for example, you can assume that Sid the sloth is going to ignorantly cause a problem that flares the tempers of those around him, causing him to sulk in a corner somewhere while inadvertently causing a much, much bigger problem that will unwillingly throw his companions into an adventure that will eventually cause their hearts to warm so they can bond as a herd again.
The interchangeable gears of this plot have already taken on stories that dealt with extinction by global devastation, as well as a swashbuckling action piece that takes place in a hidden jungle residing under the ice. This time around, those gears are swapped with a Christmas story that painfully doubles as a 'this holiday is about to be destroyed forever so we have to do something' tale, as well as an origin story for Christmas itself. Sooo... we're actually expected to swallow a story in which our dysfunctional Ice Age crew comes dangerously close to destroying a holiday that's apparently well established with them, all while somehow being responsible for its creation at the same time. Uh, did the writers even think about how contradictory that all is before patting themselves on the back and converting this confusing heap into drawing boards? I doubt even a visit from Captain Kirk and Spock, explaining a relevant theory about time travel and the creation of alternate realities by some quirky paradox, could fix this blatant disregard for a story that, you know, actually makes sense.
Even if the writers didn't shoot themselves in the foot with such an under-thought concept, condensing more or less the same plot into a 25 minute time slot (have to leave room for those commercials, you know) makes this special too chaotically paced for its own good. I know one could reference the likes of Rudolph or Frosty and argue they tell pretty expansive stories in a short amount of time, but I would, in retort, explain that those stories at least felt like they were conveyed in the pace they were meant to. They had consistent flow. A Mammoth Christmas Special starts off with the same pace as any feature length Ice Age flick though, and by the time the herd actually gets down to business and tries to save Christmas from extinction, it's too little too late, and the story hurriedly tries to wrap things up in an effort to fulfill its obligation to complete the story.
And that's really what this entire production feels like - An obligation. An obligation handed down from the studio so that they can remind the kiddies that Manny, Sid, Diego and Co. are still around, so they can begin the hype machine for the fourth feature length installment (coming soon to a theater new you). You would think with only 25 minutes to tell a story the writers would have foregone the Scrat shorts, but no, he still routinely makes an appearance to chase an acorn he's most likely never going to catch. Another 'obligation' the Ice Age franchise is sticking true to, is having newly introduced characters have a personality that has some sort of 'wow' factor, or at least an 'edge' that's cool and hip, because here, Santa Claus is kind of a mix between the jolly Saint Nick we know... and The Dude. Even more groan inducing, the reindeers have personalities that are painful reminders of the surfing-dude-isms from the 80's and early 90's. I half expected one of them to hop on a floating surfboard, throw on a pair of sunglasses and say, "Gnarly! Tubular!" Yech.
If I haven't made it clear yet, here's what it all boils down to - If you're an adult who enjoys the Ice Age franchise and can't wait to see what the fourth film has to offer (I'm with you on that one), just take it from a fellow fan - This isn't worth the time, or more importantly, worth the coin (I've seen this thing on 'sale' at Wal-Mart for $25 bucks, believe it or not). It lacks inspiration and imagination, and above all else, it really fails to instill the vital element that is the Christmas spirit. This is a rushed effort that was designed with only two things in mind - To take your money and to mark the official beginning of the studio's hype campaign for the next film (after all, this release even includes a sneak peak for it). I'm not against modernized Christmas specials by any means. On the contrary, I thought Shrek the Halls was magnificently executed and I still hold hope that it, too, will one day grace us with an appearance on Blu-ray. But this? It's about the equivalent of receiving a lump of coal in your Christmas stocking... a lump of coal that had a seriously inflated MSRP at the time of purchase. Honestly, the only saving grace this 'special' has is the fact that your kids are going to love it. My 20 month old son giggles and loves the horribly written Christmas song parodies and finds even the new characters to be entertaining. Even so, this alone doesn't warrant a purchase. The debut of A Mammoth Christmas Special was Thanksgiving night, so chances are many of you DVR'd it if you had any interest. Even if you didn't, you can certainly wait until next year when Fox is certain to play it again... you know, so they can hype the sale of the fourth film's Blu-ray release.
If for some reason you have to buy this because it's on your kid's wish list, one thing you won't have to worry about is the technical presentation on this disc. The 1080p AVC encoded picture here (1.78:1) is absolutely stunning in nearly every perceivable way. The computer generated imagery on display is every bit as sharp, detailed, and colorful as you would expect for an Ice Age feature, and although the viewing on television looked more remarkable than I expected for something over-the-air (considering how cable companies love to choke the connection), this encode has a minor edge up on it. The only minor issue that can be seen is some minor banding, but even this is isolated to only a moment or two throughout the show's entirety. The scripted content of A Mammoth Christmas Special might be groan inducing, but this is probably going to be the most impressive looking Christmas special in the whole of your Blu-ray collection.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is also an excellent addition that seems to have been given more attention than I imagined it would have - The dialogue is flawlessly executed without ever coming off as harsh or drowned out by sound effects, the rear channels are used to balance the music around the entire home theater area, as well as provided some impressive sound effects. The LFE has a pretty impressive rumble as well. The only caveat to the wonderful sound design is that the 25 minute special doesn't allow the time for lengthy sequences to truly impressive the audience at home. Despite the decent envelopment of effects, music and clean yet powerful LFE, the scripted events in A Mammoth Christmas Special hardly ever let the soundtrack shine as a whole. That's a flaw by contextual design and not of the lossless track that's been provided though, so anyone with reasonable expectations should find themselves satisfied with what the disc has to offer, perhaps even surprisingly so.
I touched on this briefly once before, but there's not much this release has to offer in extra content... except for using the opportunity to let us know another Ice Age film is on the way. The obligatory butchered Christmas tune, standard for any modern Christmas special, is provided to us in the Swingin' Jingle Bells Music Video, and as expected, there's a Sneak Peek for Ice Age: Continental Drift. In order to try and justify that $25 you may pay for this at retail, Fox have included a DVD and an Ultraviolet Digital Copy. The DVD is a nice addition for those of us that have a DVD player in the car for our kids, but the Ultraviolet Digital Copy system leaves a lot to be desired and I wish studios would stop using it. It's not a digital copy so much as it's a digital stream, so advertised it as such and stop trying to dupe the consumer so you can save a buck, especially in regards to a release that's overpriced for what it has to offer - A single 25 minute special, a silly music video, and a self-indulgent promo to get the hype machine rolling. Oh, and a slipcover... but a slipcover doesn't exactly justify the price point either.
As a fan of the ever improving Ice Age franchise, I really wanted to like A Mammoth Christmas Special. Unfortunately, it tries to cram an hour and a half worth of story into a measly 25 minutes and furthermore, the building blocks for the story at large are the same 'Sid gets on people's nerves and makes something bad happen' elements we've seen numerous time before. The most glaring issue this special has overall though is its confusing storyline, which depicts this pre-historic tale as an origin story for Christmas... despite the fact the main characters already seem to know about Santa Claus and the tradition he's known for. Honestly, somebody should be fired for letting such a plot hole slip through a crack that had to have been the size of the Grand Canyon... but if history is any indication, Fox probably strong-armed the already busy crew of the Ice Age franchise into making this Christmas special. Some of us surely remember Fox forcing Seth MacFarlane and Co. into making that awful Return of the Jedi parody, right? If you are buying this however, don't expect anything worthwhile in the extras department, but the audio and especially the video are stellar. The silver-belled lining here is that your kids are going to love this, but adult fans of the series should stay far, far away from this. Skip It.