Ice Age is one of the worst children’s films I’ve ever seen in terms of gender portrayal.
In a nutshell, Ice Age is a classic all-male buddy adventure in which a motley group of guys of different prehistoric species bring a (male) baby back to his human clan. The human clan is weirdly also all male except for the baby’s mom, who sacrifices her life in the beginning of the movie in order to set up their great adventure. The lack of female main characters is pretty standard fare, so it’s the “mom’s sacrifice” scene that truly places this film in a class of its own.
In order to save her baby from a saber-tooth tiger, the mother clutches him to her and throws herself over a high waterfall. When she reaches the river below, she’s in good enough shape to grab onto a tree trunk extending from the riverbank and pull herself to the edge of the water. As she pulls herself along, she’s walking on the floor of the river, thus she’s not paralyzed or otherwise mortally wounded. She has the strength to push her baby up onto a rock and look sadly into the eyes of the mammoth, imploring him to steady her baby with his trunk so he won’t slide back into the river. Once she sees that her baby is safely in the mammoth’s care, she lets go of the rock and swirls away down the river, and the only reaction to her death was the sloth sadly saying “she’s gone.”
Even if I suspend my disbelief enough to buy that she has the strength to get just that far but can’t pull herself out of the river, this scene screams the following question: Why didn’t the mammoth put his trunk around both of them and save them both?
Answer: Because the only purpose of her life was to set up their buddy adventure, and that would have messed it up.
This was worse than the mom’s sacrifice setting up the adventure in Finding Nemo because in that case at least it was clear the mom couldn’t have been saved. The scene in Ice Age demonstrates that the writers didn’t give a second thought to the mom as a person: they saw her as a disposable character and wanted to milk her for one last emotional parting shot before throwing her away.
Aside from that, a few nameless females make brief appearances in their usual roles (moms, girls being hit on). Even the pride of saber-tooth tigers out to get the heroes is all male for some unknown reason. Actually, I know the reason: the film is pure formula from start to finish — including the jokes — and that’s the only thing their script-generating program knows how to spit out.
Ice Age II is an improvement over Ice Age since — in addition to adding several wacky new male characters to the cast — they added one wacky new female character. She is, of course, the love interest who provides romantic comedy as the male mammoth character woos her.
In a memory sequence in the first movie the mammoth was shown to be sad and lonely because his mate died — coincidentally enough — protecting their baby. In that case, though, the baby died too, so he was even more sad than the human dad who was okay with losing his wife when at least he got his son back. Thus the mammoth needed a new mate to make him happy again.
How many (theoretical) female characters have to give their lives to set up some back-story for male protagonists? I hate to even touch the question…