Ice Age Producers On The Adventures Of Buck Wild And The Future Of The Franchise [Interview]

Very few franchises that have been running for two decades can say they've had the benefit of the same steady hands guiding the ship the whole way. But that is indeed something the "Ice Age" series can claim, as producers Lori Forte and John C. Donkin have been there since the first movie in 2002, and haven't departed since. Even following the Disney/Fox merger, they've stayed put to help guide the family-friendly flicks into the streaming age with "The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild."

Donkin is making his feature directorial debut after all these years with this spin-off movie, which focuses on Simon Pegg's Buck, who audiences first met in 2009's "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs." The movies, up to this point, have been wildly successful, generating more than $3.2 billion at the global box office. Streaming, however, is the future and with Disney doubling down in that department, it makes sense to bring such a successful and beloved series Disney+. And fortunately, this new entry comes from two people who care deeply about these movies.

I recently had the chance to speak with Donkin and Forte, and we discussed why Donkin stepped up to direct this time and the potential future of the franchise. Oh, and I thanked them for one of the biggest laughs of my entire life.

"We've worked together for over 20 years on this franchise"

John, you've been producing for quite a while, but if I'm not mistaken, this is your feature directorial debut. What made you finally make the jump with this movie?

John C. Donkin: Well, it's something that I've kind of wanted to do for a little bit, but never really had the opportunity. But when we got the chance to do this one, it was presented to me, I was really happy to jump into the fray. During the course of producing, not only the features, but a couple of the shorts, I was able to produce with some folks that were first-time directors and along the way sort helped guide them. Through my experience with working with other more experienced directors, [I] kind of saw, "You know what? I could do this." So it's been really fun. I've enjoyed it quite a lot.

How did this come about? Because it was a Fox property and then obviously Disney purchased Fox. Now it's going to Disney+. Was this in the works before the Disney thing happened or did the Disney purchase allow this to happen?

Lori Forte: Well, we developed it a while ago and, interestingly enough, we developed it with the executives who are now with us. So we just developed it with the same people we've always developed it with. It didn't feel like it was any different, really.

Donkin: Everybody transitioned at once, so it felt the same as it ever was.

Forte: Right.

That's a good thing because you wonder with some of that stuff, and I think there's a little bit of cynicism right now, with people feeling like a lot of franchises just get churned out for money reasons. So it's nice to hear that it was a natural process.

Forte: Yeah. It was a natural process and John and I, as John said, we've worked together... Well, I don't know if he said it this time, but we've worked together for over 20 years on this franchise. So we know it backwards and forwards, but more importantly, we're very, very protective of it. So yeah, if we're on it, it's going to be pretty much an "Ice Age" movie in the tradition of all the "Ice Age" movies.

As you both mentioned, you have been doing this for a very long time. You've been shepherding this for a long time. So I suppose I have you two to thank for one of the biggest laughs I ever had in my life. In the original movie, the scene where [Scrat] pops the popcorn over the fire accidentally?

Donkin: Oh, right on!

My mom and I to this day talk about how we were very inappropriately laughing in that theater for a lot longer than anyone felt was necessary. I just feel the need to thank you for that moment.

Forte: [Laughs] Oh, thank you for sharing that. That's great.

You're very protective of the franchise. What's it like to see it still have life all these years later, but now in a new way where you're doing spin-offs?

Forte: Well, it feels amazing, first of all. Who would've thought 20 years ago? But even still new generations are going to be watching the movies. We are really fortunate because we wanted to basically take characters that we love, that we haven't really spent a lot of time with because you can't do that in a movie with 18 characters. So we wanted to take those characters and we had an opportunity to focus in on some characters that we really wanted to see more of and get to know better and to see them change and evolve. This gave us an opportunity to do it. It doesn't mean by any stretch that the old "Ice Age" characters aren't around and won't still be around. No, no, everyone in the "Ice Age" universe is pretty much alive and well.

"I see everything as a possibility down the road"

This movie sort of opens up that discussion. Are more spin-offs possible?

Forte: I see everything as a possibility down the road. I think if audiences like this movie and they want to see more, I think there's any number of things we can do. I certainly think another "Ice Age" movie is due with all the old "Ice Age" characters. I think, more spin-offs [with] characters that we want to see more often, get to know better. I think anything is fine. We have this beautiful opportunity of streaming on Disney+. It takes shorter amount of times for us to make the movie. Yes, it's more difficult to make a movie on less of a schedule, but sometimes it's actually more fun to do it that way because we don't ruminate on it that long. We basically do it quickly, and do it the right way, and get it out faster. So it feels like the right place to do more.

John, if I can switch back to you for a second, another franchise you've been involved with is the "Rio" movies. And the second one did quite well. In a world where franchises are kind of king right now, do you see "Rio 3" happening at any point?

Donkin: You know, like the "Ice Age" franchise, I love the "Rio" world and would love to see more material there. I can't speak to whether or not that's being developed or not, but again, if the audience demand is there, I don't see any reason why we wouldn't at least talk about whether that was a possibility or not. But the "Rio" world and those characters were rich, and it'd be fun to see them move on. But nothing specific to speak to.

There are many streaming services now. If people are at home, it can be a little tough to settle down and say, "This is the thing I need to watch." Pitching to the audience here, how would you say, "This movie is the thing that you should focus on. This is worth your time to sit down and stream from the comfort of home. This is the movie you should spend your time watching?"

Donkin: I think if you love the characters as much as we love the characters, sit down and watch it. Because we just dive into these characters, they have fun. It's a relatively quick ride. The story clips along. It's got all the things that you look for in an "Ice Age" movie, like massive scope, huge score, great sound design, colorful characters, and set pieces. Ifyou're in a situation where you need to watch it with somebody young or old, it's safe. You can sit down and watch it with your grandma. If you're our age, you can sit down, and you can watch it with your child. There's going to be nothing to offend anybody but everybody's going to enjoy it. So, for sure, it's great. Flip it on, kick back and tune out of reality for a little while.

Forte: Being able to spend time in the lost world of dinosaurs with these crazy, wacky, eccentric characters, watching characters change and grow along the way with deep family values and core principles. It's just great fun, and you learn a little something from it, and we get to spend time with characters we love. I would definitely approach people to see this if they love the characters from "Ice Age" as much as we did. Hopefully they'll love the movie as much as we loved working on it.

"The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild" arrives on Disney+ January 28.