In February 2021, Blue Sky Studios turned grey. After 34 years, the Fox animation company best known for the Ice Age franchise and the Rio movies was shut down by Disney, with all operations (minus an Ice Age streaming series for Disney+) ceasing shortly thereafter. Though the company never matched the same high standards as its award-winning competitors, it was definitely a sad day for animation lovers. While the studio didn't always come out on top, Blue Sky could surprise viewers with the right movie, notably with stunning animation, top-tier voice talent, and goofy story ideas.
With only 13 movies made under their banner, we decided to take this opportunity to look back on the studio's relatively short-lived history and rank all the Blue Sky Studios movies from worst to best, including all five installments in the Ice Age series.
13. Ice Age: Collision Course (2016)
There's something oddly Family Guy-esque about the Ice Age franchise. More specifically, as the animation got better, the writing got worse, opting for tired gags and lazy character work where the pre-historic creatures we knew from the charming original movie barely resemble their former selves. It was apparent that Blue Sky cared so little about the integrity of this property at this point. They were presumably chasing dollars to fund their other endeavors with the easy money they could get here, but that doesn't make the shallow story, pithy emotional beats, and half-hearted jokes any better.
Generally speaking, the voice acting is still fine (though Denis Leary's continued disinterest in this series remains apparent). Otherwise, the Ice Age franchise melted its goodwill well before this needlessly fifth installment. On the plus side (maybe), there are some moments of body horror in this family film that would make David Cronenberg flinch and recoil. Make of that what you will.
12. Ice Age: Continental Drift (2012)
It's a testament to how completely forgettable Ice Age: Continental Drift is that I constantly confuse it with Collision Course, the sequel that came shortly thereafter.
While this Ice Age movie is slightly better than the sequel that follows, Continental Drift appropriately (and disappointingly) continues to drift away from what once made the franchise appealing. Lacking the wit, heart, or inspired humor of its better predecessors, this utterly unremarkable sequel does little to convince audiences that this series is worth following. It became widely apparent that this franchise is no longer interested in telling fun or investing stories with these prehistoric characters. Nevertheless, the animation is still impressive, Scrat is always good for a couple of chuckles, and John Leguizamo's voice performance as Sid remains excellent, while Peter Dinklage also does commendably good work as Captain Gutt.
11. Rio 2 (2014)
While Rio 2 remains as splendidly colorful as its predecessor, this sequel is ultimately a step down in every other sense. The busier, more exhausting story presentation lacks the heart of the original, and while the premise is inspired for this sequel, the writing constantly fails to live up to its potential. Although it's not without its charming moments, this sequel feels more disappointing than other Blue Sky sequels since the original movie proved that the company could return to the warm sincerity of their earlier efforts. Now, this lackluster animated sequel proves that they're back to cashing in on their trustworthy properties, favoring the economical potential over the potential of these stories. It's a shame, to be sure, but not too surprising either.
10. Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (2009)
With Dawn of the Dinosaurs, the Ice Age franchise officially settled into its mediocrity. It favored premises instead of plots, and it sought frantic jokes rather than earnest emotions. While the company's animation only continued to impress, particularly in the wacky cartoonishness of Scrat's increasingly chaotic misadventures, there's very little to this third installment that stands out or proves winsome. The inclusion of dinosaurs is fun-in-theory (if utterly nonsensical after the Ice Age, but whatever), but the filmmakers make disappointingly little use of the concept, resulting in another forgettable, disposable addition to a film series with increasingly diminishing returns.
9. Ferdinand (2017)
Though it garnered more critical affection than some other recent Blue Sky movies, Ferdinand is sadly a bland, lackluster animated movie, one that fails to live up to its modest expectations. While the premise, based on the popular children's book by Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson, is charming enough, following a bull who's a gentle pacifist, there's very little in Ferdinand that you haven't seen in other, better animated family films. That said, it does boast some lovely animation, fine attention to detail, and a sharp lead vocal performance from John Cena. Ultimately, its heartfelt storytelling won over critics who could overlook the familiarities of its plotting, though it sadly became a mostly unremarkable Blue Sky effort.
8. Epic (2013)
For a movie that prides itself on being called Epic, the tragic irony of Blue Sky's fantasy adventure flick is that it's ultimately very disposable and quite forgettable, never living up to such a bold (but also subsequently and appropriately generic) title. Though it does a decent job of establishing miniature stakes and creates some impressive animated environments, the characters are so generic and the story is so derivative that it's hard to be taken by its commendable features. The voice performers do an admirable job of picking up the slack, but sadly, they can only do so much — similar to the animators. Still, it's competently made and generally harmless. But ultimately, don't expect to remember too much about it by the time it wraps.
7. Spies in Disguise (2019)
Perhaps it's only fitting that Blue Sky Studios' final film went to the birds. Spies in Disguise, based loosely on 2009's short film, Pigeon: Impossible, was an appealingly bizarre buddy spy comedy, one that saw a special secret agent (Will Smith) unwittingly teaming up with an intelligent-but-befuddled young scientist (Tom Holland) when he's accidentally transformed into a pigeon. As gleefully goofy as that premise can be, the movie's free-for-all silliness is undermined by the story's paint-by-numbers approach.
While the jokes consistently remain inspired, the comedy doesn't reach its full heights by a plot that favors familiar beats and shallows attempts at sentimentality. While the animation remains strong, and the voice performances are dependably decent from our star-studded voice cast, Spies in Disguise squanders a lot of its fun potential, resulting in a mediocre curtain call for the 30-plus-year-legacy of this inconsistent animation company. Still, there's a good bit to enjoy in this uneven-but-charming CG comedy, including a scene-stealing sidekick named Jeff.
6. Ice Age: The Meltdown (2006)
While it lacks the heart, the emotional resonance, and the novelty of the original, Ice Age: The Meltdown is, nevertheless, an adequate sequel, one that boasts better animation, some heightened environmental stakes, and more delightfully wacky antics with Scrat, i.e. the real star of the Ice Age franchise.
While The Meltdown would introduce several characters who became regular personalities in the later sequels, this second installment already felt tired and outstretched, making little geographical sense and lacking the first movie's gentle assurance — all in favor of rambunctious gags, which would later define Blue Sky's brand. Truly, it was a sign of what was to come. Still, Ice Age: The Meltdown remains an appealing continuation, though it left some fans cold.
5. Robots (2005)
Following the tremendous Oscar-nominated success of Ice Age, 2005's Robots, Blue Sky Studios' sophomore movie, continued to establish the Fox company as the new studio in town, giving Disney, Pixar, and DreamWorks Animation a run for their money. Alas, Robots didn't reach the same success, critically or commercially, but there's a lot worth championing in this robot world.
The world-building, for instance, is outstanding, while the character designs and slick animation were also quite commendable. Additionally, the vibrant voice performances, notably from the late Robin Williams, do their part to bring humanity to these mechanical characters. While the story is generic in its approach, there were enough fresh, innovative elements involved to promise a bright (if not always shining) future for this once-newfound company.
4. Rio (2011)
Though not without its familiar storytelling beats, Rio was a warm, vibrant burst of life from Blue Sky Studios, complete with gorgeously created locales, sharp animation, bubbly characters, and a heartfelt message, along with some likable voice performances from our star-studded voice cast, led by Jesse Eisenberg and Anne Hathaway. Based on a story idea from 1995, Rio borrowed heavily from the likes of Happy Feet and Surf's Up, though it's elevated by its passionate, musical presentation. While Blue Sky movies don't always match the wit of their jokes or the sharpness of their animation, Rio balances its heart with its humor to create an appealing, if not wildly original, family film that's easy to enjoy.
3. Horton Hears A Who! (2008)
Admittedly, Dr. Seuss's feature film adaptations rarely (if ever) live up to the high standards of their source materials. That said, Horton Hears a Who! is among the better adaptations of the late author's work, capturing the book's zippy spirit and bringing the splendidly rich environments of the text to life in a way that the live-action movies never could.
Aided by two strong voice performances from Jim Carrey and Steve Carrell, Horton Hears a Who! isn't quite as clever as Dr. Seuss' work, but it's much more respectful than other, lesser takes on the child author's material. The movie also captures the emotional heart of the story in a way that previous adaptations have failed to do. Overall, it's a solid Dr. Seuss adaptation that proves its worth more often than not, showcasing the sadly unrealized potential that the company had in bringing classic works to the big screen.
2. The Peanuts Movie (2015)
While the impressive animation style, which blended 3D animation with a 2D style to capture the late Charles Schultz's revered artistry, has been discussed at length, perhaps more so than the movie itself, The Peanuts Movie became one of the finest films to come from Blue Sky Studios, presenting an immensely respectful tribute to the influential artist and his greatest creation without ever cheapening the brand or forcing lazy pop-culture jokes and references. The result is a splendidly animated, immensely heartfelt family film that's accessible to all audiences. Young viewers can discover the appeal of this comic strip's endearing legacy, while adults could feel pangs of nostalgia for this beloved property. Complete with fine vocal performances from our young cast and some sharp writing along the way, The Peanuts Movie was definitely a warm, bright hit for Blue Sky Studios.
1. Ice Age (2002)
Ice Age is the one that started it all, and in my view, it remains Blue Sky's best work. Complete with likable and inspired characters, some sharp sub-zero environments, and a cavalcade of inspired gags, Chris Wedge's earnest and endearing animated movie didn't match the ambition of its original ideas, which was apparently meant to be more serious and action-intensive, but the humor only adds to the warmth and spark of these characters, particularly with Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, and Denis Leary being properly cast in their respective parts. Plus, this is the only Ice Age movie where Scrat's scenes are egregiously better than the main plot, as the emotional journey of our animal characters is sincere, smart, and ultimately very sweet.
Though Blue Sky Studios never quite matched the heights of its competition, Ice Age proved that they could make movies near their heights. It's a shame, then, that the franchise and the company didn't aspire to these heights with their other, often lazier follow-up projects.