While Disney, Pixar and DreamWorks have dominated mainstream animation for several decades now one studio living in the shadow of the competition that churned out some pretty memorable products was Blue Sky Studios. Founded in 1987, Blue Sky Studios started as the producer of computer generated animation for commercials and films before their breakthrough project, one of my favorite short films ever “Bunny”, won an Academy Award. From that point on Blue Sky Studios became the de facto animation branch of 20th Century Fox releasing 13 movies over its lifespan. Sadly, it was announced in February that as a result of Fox’s merger with Disney and the worsening impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the industry that Disney will be closing down the Connecticut-based studio in April.
I’ve always had a soft spot for Blue Sky Studios as “Ice Age”, their first feature length film, was a staple of Christmas mornings for me in the early 2000s before my grandfather passed away. The films that followed always served as fun alternate animated entertainment when the major studios weren’t churning out blockbusters. Also, the fact that it was based in my home state didn’t hurt either. So today, I’m going to be counting down my personal top ten favorite films from Blue Sky’s library as a tribute to the soon-to-be-defunct studio.
Some minor ground rules: None of their animated shorts, including “Bunny”, will be on this list because this is focusing on their feature length efforts. I’m also only including their in-studio produced animated pictures so their work on other movies producing CGI effects was not considered but I implore you to take a look at the films they did work on because it’s an impressive mix.
Anyways, here are my picks for the Top 10 Blue Sky Studios Films. What was your favorite Blue Sky movie? Let me know in the comments!
10. “Ice Age: The Meltdown”
The last spot on this list was honestly more of a filler than anything. Of the thirteen movies released by Blue Sky there were clear options for my least favorite films. But the most tolerable of those movies (which included “Epic” and two other “Ice Age” sequels) was “Ice Age: The Meltdown”. The second film in the franchise, “Ice Age: The Meltdown” isn’t as forgettable as its pirates and space themed successors, but it’s close. Following Manny, Sid and Diego as they seek a safe haven in the final days of the Ice Age and introducing Manny’s eventual wife Ellie and her obnoxious brothers Crash and Eddie, “Ice Age: The Meltdown” isn’t as charming or fun as the first and third movies in the franchise (more on those later) but it deserves credit for helping Blue Sky further legitimize itself in a crowded market and successfully building on the series and its characters like most good animated sequels should.
9. “Rio 2”
A divisive sequel at best, “Rio 2” is certainly a mixed bag but it’s one I enjoy for what it was. “Rio 2” once again follows macaws Blu and Jewell, now with three kids, but instead of spending much of its time in the titular Brazilian city the setting shifts to the Amazon where Jewel reunites with her family and Blue has his “Meet the Parents” experience trying to earn respect from Jewel’s father. There’s also an environmental message mixed in to keep the human characters busy as well. Like I said I enjoy “Rio 2” but mostly because I just like seeing the same colorful animation and fun characters that make the first movie such a joy to experience. If I had to choose which of the “Rio” movies to watch the first one is superior, however this follow up serves as a decent complimenting sequel despite rarely doing anything original. Sadly, this is likely the end of the “Rio” franchise thanks to Blue Sky’s closure despite a third film and a spin-off having reportedly been in the works.
Based on a children’s book from the 1930s, “Ferdinand” is simply harmless family-friendly fun. Despite it’s incomplete message about animal cruelty, “Ferdinand” provides an energetic and engaging experience with fun characters and smooth, crisp animation that all helped it earn an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature, only the studio’s second such nomination after “Ice Age”. While I enjoyed this film when it came out I haven’t really had the urge to watch it since and can’t help but acknowledge that it’s more memorable in name alone as much of the plot to me felt predictable and uninspired compared to other animated movies of the time. Still this was Blue Sky at the top of its game even if it left a lot to be desired and could be considered one of the safest movies Blue Sky ever produced.
7. “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs”
For me this is the best sequel in the “Ice Age” canon, and I know I’m kind of in a minority there. “Dawn of the Dinosaurs” sees Manny, Sid, Diego and company travel beneath the surface of the Earth discovering a land where dinosaurs have survived. Complimented by a scene-stealing weasel named Buck voiced by Simon Pegg, “Dawn of the Dinosaurs” for me shows off “Ice Age” at its very best and the crisp, improved animation that, in contrast to the previous movies, is solid proof of the growth Blue Sky saw over its first decade. While the story certainly leaves a lot to be desired, it’s the visuals that always stand out to me with some of the best realized animated dinosaurs put to film and beautiful backdrops that stand in stark contrast to the cold, repetitive scenery that littered the first two movies in the franchise.
6. “Spies in Disguise”
The (so far) final movie from Blue Sky Studios and the only one released under Disney ownership, “Spies in Disguise” is a fun homage to the spy genre which honestly isn’t as represented in animation as you might think. A talented voice cast, fun animation style and wacky concept based on a 2009 animated short make “Spies in Disguise” a watchable waste of time. It sports plenty of action, fun if childish humor and electrifying pacing not to mention one of the most threatening Ben Mendelsohn villain roles of his increasing typecasted career. While it pales in comparison to a lot of the material bigger studios were and still are producing in the animation game “Spies in Disguise” offered plenty of promise from Blue Sky in the new decade that will sadly never be realized.
Blue Sky’s second feature film, “Robots” is a favorite among many fans but to me it’s more like the studio’s equivalent of “A Bug’s Life”, a memorable second effort that became more forgettable over time. Still this story about a dreamer who sets out into the big world comprised completely of robots to become an inventor has its charm including a memorable performance from the great Robbin Williams. Cliché in all the right ways and featuring an inventive and inspired world with animation that frankly still holds up well today, “Robots” might not be the best project from Blue Sky Studios but it is among their most memorable and original with a deserving following. It still stands out from the crowd as one of the more original animated projects from the mid-2000s.
4. “Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!”
The first animated feature film based on Dr. Suess’ famous books, “Horton” is, arguably, the best Dr. Suess movie to date aside from maybe “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” depending on how well your nostalgia goggles fit. It just so happens Jim Carrey stars in both movies playing Horton in this one as he helps get a flower containing a small spec with a hidden city on it to a safe place. It follows a lot of the same beats as the book and resolves with a relevant message for young viewers that believing isn’t always as easy as seeing. For me this movie truly brought Blue Sky into the modern era of animation and introduced the more polished style that would come to define the studio. It also contains possibly the most fully realized Suess world in any movie to date outside of the animated shorts.
Now we get into the big guns, the obvious three that would be near the top of this list if you are familiar with Blue Sky’s filmography. “Rio” became Blue Sky’s highest grossing movie outside of the “Ice Age” franchise when is debuted in 2011 and was later barely surpassed by its own sequel, which one could argue was due to name recognition. This is all to say that from a popularity standpoint this movie was the one that truly put Blue Sky on the map as more than just a one-franchise studio and it deserves that praise. Probably the most beautiful film the studio ever produced, “Rio’s” colorful atmosphere and charming story about two macaws from different backgrounds being pared together as potential mates makes it one of Blue Sky’s most fun movies and a fine tribute to the beauty and culture of Rio. The catchy soundtrack and fun vocal performances also help make it an infectious movie worth revisiting.
2. “Ice Age”
The original Blue Sky movie is still one of their best. “Ice Age” may have not aged as well as many of the films on this list but as previously stated I have fond memories of it from when I was a kid. Even today it still has a look and personality all its own that stands apart from not just Blue Sky’s other movies but most animated films of the past two decades. This prehistoric tale of three misfit loners who form a bond on a trip to return a human child to his tribe is just as charming and fun today as it was in 2002. It might be relatively raw and unpolished compared to the studio’s other works but that’s what makes it special. It’s an entertaining snapshot of the studio’s humble beginnings and the characters they brought to life have become timeless sparking a franchise that would go on to define Blue Sky’s identity for the duration of its life.
1. “The Peanuts Movie”
The fifth full-length film based on the famous “Peanuts” comic strip was criminally overlooked the year it was released but became Blue Sky’s first Golden Globe nominated animated feature. I remember seeing this movie on my birthday in 2015 and loved every second of it. Years later it’s still my favorite Blue Sky movie. The animation is crisp and unique and the story is minimalistic keeping in line with the traditional “Peanuts” formula. It feels like a true classic-to-be that remains one of my favorite animated features from the last decade. In my opinion it’s Blue Sky at their very best in terms of visuals, storytelling and providing the full package that larger studios usually offer in their more high profile productions. It serves as a spectacular showcase of Blue Sky putting everything they learned in the years prior to the ultimate test and the result was their greatest achievement and their absolute best film.