Thin ice

Film - Philip Kerris left cold by an aggressively demotic American adventure

As the father of two small boys, I am obliged to go to a lot of films for children; to their consternation, I rarely ever watch the movie, preferring to sleep - sound levels permitting - listen to my Walkman, or even, with the aid of a Mini Maglite, read a newspaper. The films are nearly always American, something that my eldest son, aged eight, has noticed and finds even more of a problem than I do.

"It's just the accent," he told me. "It's so annoying."

In spite of this, he and his brother still managed to enjoy Ice Age, which hits the cinemas in time for the Easter school holidays. I sort of enjoyed it myself, although I discovered much with which to feel irritated - not least the increasing cultural hegemony of the United States.

Ice Age is the story of a fast-talking giant ground sloth named Sid, a moody woolly mammoth called Manny, and a scheming sabre-toothed tiger named Diego - an odd-couple buddy movie that puts the plasticine into the Pleistocene. These strange, wisecracking bedfellows find a human baby, Roshan, and, taking pity on the cute little mite, elect to try to return him to his parents. (Basically, it's the plot of Three Men and a Baby, which - even the keenest Francophiles among you may have forgotten - was itself based on the vastly superior Trois Hommes et un Couffin. See what I mean about US cultural hegemony?) With an ice age on the way, this charitable decision obliges our unlikely trio to take time out from the pressing matter of their own survival. Given that each of them is now extinct as a species, I wondered if we were supposed to conclude that these prehistoric animals were morally too decent to coexist with man.

Probably this was too complicated for audience and screenwriter alike, the latter preferring to concentrate on the cruder implications of his theme. As a result, some forgivable mistakes are made in the pursuit of innocent entertainment. But my son was less than forgiving in the small matter of the geography of the film. There is a throwaway scene in which Manny the Mammoth casts a dubious eye over Stonehenge and, with a level of beer-glass cynicism that would not sound out of place coming from Cliff in Cheers, remarks: "Modern architecture - it'll never catch on."

"These three animals, yeah? They're American, OK?" my son reasoned, quite unconscious of the increasing transatlantic drift of his own accent, which makes his mother wince like Henry Higgins. "But how can they be Americans?" he protested. "Stonehenge is in England. These animals ought to be English. Unless the Americans who made the film are really stupid, yeah?"

I had to admit he had a point. But judging that he wasn't ready for a lecture on Oceanic imperialism and Airstrip One, I uttered some bromide about how, perhaps, 10,000 years ago, stone circles like Stonehenge had been a lot more common than they are now. He was not convinced.

Later on, I found myself wondering if films such as Ice Age, with its aggressive use of American demotic, are so very different from what Kipling did in The Jungle Book. And yet, looking at the book again, I soon formed the impression that there is nothing particularly English or imperialist about these stories. On the contrary, the book is a genuine celebration of the flora and fauna of the Indian subcontinent. It was about this time I realised, with horror, that my own impression of Kipling's Jungle Book owed more to the Disney cartoon - with a tiger, a panther, a wolf and an elephant that seem to have stepped straight out of the Carlton Club in London - than to the book itself.

There can be no one that reads "The Ballad of East and West" who can doubt that Kipling loved and respected India and Indians. It also seems to me that the major difference between English and American cultural imperialism is that the apologists of the British empire were at least interested in the rest of the world. By contrast, for the past 50 years, ordinary Americans have paid little attention to the foreign policies of successive US governments.

And it is sometimes tempting to believe the old joke that God created war to teach Americans geography.

Ice Age (U) is on general release

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