Lori Forte & John Donkin Take Us Behind the Scenes of ‘The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild’

Lori Forte, John Donkin
Lori Forte, John Donkin

Almost 20 years after director Chris Wedge and the team at Blue Sky Studios brought the first Ice Age movie to audiences around the world, a fifth feature of the blockbuster franchise arrives on Disney+ on January 28. Exec produced by Blue Sky and Ice Age veteran Lori Forte and directed by John C. Donkin, who also produced Continental Drift and Dawn of the Dinosaurs, The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild follows the the possum brothers Crash and Eddie and the titular adventure-loving weasel (Simon Pegg) who try to save the Lost World of dinosaurs. We had a chance to speak with the toon veterans about Buck’s wild new spinoff:

Animation Magazine: It’s great to talk to you. Congrats on the movie premiering on Disney+ this month. Can you tell us how this new chapter in the super popular franchise came about?

John C. Donkin: Well, I joined the project actually in around July of 2020. So it actually took a couple of years to put together. We were already in the pandemic and the movie had the first draft of the script all done and some minimal storyboards were created. That’s when both Lori and I came on board.

Lori Forte: Yes, there was some development that was done before that and we both jumped on board around the same time.

Was it always planned as a feature or were there plans for it to be a TV show?

Lori: I think at the start, there was possibly a TV show, but I think the movie made much more sense to us, since it is an expansion of a very rich, exciting and adventurous world. I think the movie format was just a better place for it.

John: Yes, it evolved into that. It just felt like the storylines were worthy of having that longer frame.

The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild
The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild

This is also the 20th anniversary of the first movie. How do you both feel about the franchise? What made it special for you?

Lori: I never get tired of coming back to Ice Age, I just love the characters, the message, the family, the themes. Obviously, we were able to create a new original spinoff from it with Buck Wild. So it was going back to the Lost World which is a place that is just the most exciting place. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be in a place with dinosaurs and carnivorous plants? And you also have this protector and guide. It just felt like a very rich, big story to tell.

John: Yes. Lori and I had a conversation early on when we both came on board and, I recall we just said, “You know what? Let’s just have fun.” It was very easy to have fun because the material kind of drove us forward in a way, and it evolved the way it needed to adjust during the making of the movie. We probably had some of the most fun making this. It felt like coming home because we love these characters. And, you know, it was great to reunite with Simon Pegg (who voices Buck) on this project. It was like putting on the most comfortable pajamas, Everything just felt exactly right.

Lori: It was exciting to come back to it, but it was also exciting to open it up and explore new facets of the characters and bring in new characters and expand the family again. And it’s also because there’s so much comedy in it. There’s so much physical humor, and that was fun for the animators. We had Simon and the possums, so it was really a fun experience because we just laughed all the time.

The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild
The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild

Where was the actual animation done and how many people worked on it?

John: Most of the production was done remotely. So there was really never a moment when I was able to get in front of the whole team in person. That said, I would say we had around the neighborhood of 80 people working on it. It was a pretty lean crew. But yet, everybody was able to really concentrate and work hard from their homes. We finished the movie in the fall.

So the Blue Sky team didn’t work on this movie?

John and Lori: No, we had mostly the Disney team. The movie was produced at Bardel Entertainment in Vancouver.

I guess we can now talk about the giant mammoth in the room, which is Disney’s acquisition of Blue Sky and the consequent shut-down of the studio. This movie must have been a bittersweet experience for you, since it comes out 20 years after the first Ice Age, which really put Blue Sky on the map. How do you feel about that?

Lori: Obviously, there’s some nostalgia for Blue Sky, and we feel sad that it is no longer. But, it was wonderful when we had it. But I’m so excited that we still get live on with the franchise and that Disney is so behind this movie. It was a wonderful feeling coming back. John and I talked about it at the beginning; he was saying, it felt like comfortable shoes to fall into. I just felt like I was coming home to come back to the Ice Age franchise, even though it wasn’t Blue Sky anymore. This felt like home to me — and, quite frankly, that’s the reason why I was always there anyway. It was for Ice Age, for the most part.

John: I’ve thought about this whole thing because I knew it was going to come. But the thing is, you know, we were both at Blue Sky for more than two decades. But our focus was always on the story, character and entertainment. Everything was in service of the movie, and this was no different. We were driven by the character and the continuity and the storytelling and the jokes and the fun and the entertainment value. That’s the approach we took. This project was always conceived to be outside of Blue Sky. So we were just making the movie and being true to the characters.

The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild
The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild

It’s interesting whenever we post anything about Blue Sky or Ice Age, our readers are so passionate about it. They are very vocal about how much they loved the studio and this franchise. How do people react to you when you go out in the world and they realize that you are part of the Blue Sky and Ice Age team?

Lori: Ice Age is such a beloved franchise and I can’t tell you how many times people tell me how much they loved the movie, when I’m out and about or traveling. But it is really quite amazing that they’ve lived so long through these generations. But now I think a new generation is coming up and it’s going to watch it on Disney streaming — that’s all the movies, all the shows and shorts that we did, as well as this brand-new original movie. It’s all exciting for us, especially for John and I who have been on this franchise for more than two decades, the fact that it still continues and audiences still love it. Now, we’re so pleased to be able to present a new part of the franchise with new characters and some of our old beloved characters.

John: You know, I have a lot of friends and colleagues from Blue Sky and they have reached out to me and they just said, “You know what? I’m so happy that you guys are continuing this and that the franchise is being carried by a team that actually cares about everything.” So, that’s very gratifying. I think when people have the opportunity to see the movie, the material will speak for itself. There are so many avenues that we could potentially explore in the Ice Age world, because the characters are so fun and people love them.

Have there been any talks about this movie being a sort of a pilot for a TV series for Disney+?

Lori: We don’t know. Not yet. We’ve just been busy with finishing the feature.

You are both such seasoned veterans of the animation world. What is your take on the state of the business, with features not opening in theaters and just going straight to the streamers?

John: As you know, animation is booming. There’s so much demand for content. We can make animation during a pandemic — that’s been proven. The stories are becoming wider and getting more niche audiences in some cases, more adult content, family content like ours. I think it’s amazing. I think it’s wonderful. And the techniques and the technology are evolving constantly, We’re seeing some mind-blowing visuals, animation coming across, you know, through all kinds of mediums. There are things that are really pushing in directions that are very, very exciting.

The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild premieres on Disney+ on January 28. The movie, which features the voices of Simon Pegg, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Justina Machado, Vincent Tong and Aaron Harris, is directed by John C. Donkin, written by Jim Hecht, Ray DeLaurentis and Will Schifrin from a story by Jim Hecht, with Lori Forte serving as executive producer.

 

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