Ice Age 3: Filmmakers Introduce New Characters to the Franchise

“Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs,” starring Ray Romano, Queen Latifah, and John Leguiziamo, is being released by 20th Century Fox on July 1, 2009.

Scratte the Squirrel-Rat

ICE AGE: DAWN OF THE DINOSAURS ups the stakes even more for Scrat, giving him a rival for the nut – a wily and attractive female squirrel/rat named Scratte (rhymes with “sautee”). Their battle of the sexes brings a new level of fun, action and especially romance to the beleaguered figure. Indeed, burgeoning love and the fight for the nut go hand in hand for the rodent couple, no more so than during a scene that has them tangling – then tangoing – to Lou Rawls’ classic “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine.” “When we sat down to map out the scene,” recalls director Carlos Saldanha, we said, ‘Okay, they’re fighting over the nut. What can we do beyond a standard fight scene that will make it romantic, but still action-packed?” The resulting sequence, like so many others, points to the filmmakers’ desire to break new ground with each “Ice Age” film. (Even the object of their pursuit – the nut – gets an expanded role in this film, warbling a heartfelt tune based on Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again (Naturally),” with special lyrics by co-screenwriter Yoni Brenner.)

Scratte, like all the “Ice Age” characters, was designed by noted artist Peter de Sève, who has been with the films since the inception of “Ice Age.” He worked to make the two rodents physically similar, but with important distinctions. “Scratte is smarter than Scrat,” he points out. “And she’s more refined and evolved.”

Karen Disher, who heads the film’s story department, voices Scratte. But Disher’s responsibilities extended beyond her vocal work. Unlike the film’s main story, scripted by Michael Berg & Peter Ackerman and Mike Reiss and Yoni Brenner, from a story by Jason Carter Eaton, the story department, working closely with Saldanha, created the Scrat-Scratte scenes. Disher and her team embraced the task of inventing new challenges for the beloved Scrat. “Working on the Scrat-Scratte scenes is the purest form of animation,” she notes.

Buck the Weasel

Another character new to the “Ice Age” universe is Buck, a swashbuckling, slightly crazed one-eyed weasel who accidentally fell into the world below. There, he had a fateful encounter with Rudy, a terrifying albino dinosaur who took out Buck’s eye – and Buck, the dino’s tooth – during their initial, fateful encounter. Like Captain Ahab in Moby Dick, Buck has devoted his life to vengeance on the mammoth creature that wronged him. “We always liked the idea of an adventurer – a guy who has mistakenly fallen into the wrong world, but found his destiny from his obsession with the white dinosaur Rudy,” says Saldanha. “This gives him a purpose, edge – and a sense of fun.” Adds co-screenwriter Michael Berg: “Buck has a self-mythologizing quality, and that makes him fun and bigger than life.”

The lone mammal in a world of giant lizards, Buck has been isolated for a long time – maybe too long; he’s prone to talking to the trees and shrubs surrounding him. Co-screenwriter Yoni Brenner notes that finding the origins of Buck’s bigger than life antics was a priority. “Carlos [Saldanha] wanted to make sure we defined a reason for Buck’s craziness. “We wanted to ground his behavior, at least a little bit. He had to be not only really funny, but make sense from a character point of view.”

Co-screenwriter Peter Ackerman adds that the longer he lived with the character, the more questions arose that needed answers. “You wonder, well, who is this guy? What is he doing in the underground world? How do the newly arrived Ice Age characters affect him? Does he want to join them?”

Buck has an anatomical advantage in dealing with the dangerous environment and his even more foreboding arch nemesis Rudy; character designer Peter de Sève, the animators, under supervising lead animator Galen Tan Chu, plus the film’s rigging department, made the character super-bendy in every direction. “Buck is a little crazy, as well as really athletic, so we really amped up his ability to twist, stretch and spiral,” says de Sève. Buck having only one good eye made him even more visually arresting, but presented some performance challenges for the animators.

Casting Buck

In casting the role, the filmmakers wanted a voice that stood out from their previously established characters. “Every character in the ‘Ice Age’ films has a distinct voice, but they all somehow fit together,” says producer Lori Forte. Ultimately, it was British actor Simon Pegg who got the nod to voice Buck. “Simon has great comedic timing, and his work brought a completely different flavor to Buck,” Forte continues. “We wanted a quality that conveyed a worldliness and range of experience that hadn’t yet been heard in an ‘Ice Age’ movie.” Pegg, who is currently on view as the starship engineer Scotty in director J.J. Abrams’ reboot of “Star Trek,” and who was acclaimed for his work in the edgy comedies “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz,” says he enjoyed the character, whom the actor gave a Cockney accent. “Buck really sparked my imagination. He’s full of energy and larger than life. I saw him as a cross between Indiana Jones and [“Apocalypse Now’s” powerful but demented] Col. Kurtz.”

Buck’s adventurous spirit and daredevil antics are embraced by sibling possums Crash and Eddie, both of whom we met in “Ice Age: The Meltdown.” Crash is still the loud-mouthed marsupial who loves extreme sports and trouble. Along with his brother Eddie, Crash eagerly joins Buck’s side to navigate the world below the ice and kick some dino butt. “Crash and Eddie are as out of their minds as ever; as they get older, they only get crazier” says Josh Peck who voices the role. Peck, who stars in the popular television series “Drake & Josh,” also notes that he couldn’t ask for a better on-screen brother than Seann William Scott. Scott, whose many big-screen roles include the blockbuster comedy “American Pie” and the recent hit “Role Models,” enjoyed reprising the Crash-Eddie shenanigans with Peck, adding that this film resonated even more for him than with his animated debut with “Ice Age: The Meltdown.” “I did that one for my niece and nephew,” he notes. “I did ICE AGE: DAWN OF THE DINOSAURS for me.”