What Can We Learn about Earth from The Ice Age Film Series?

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Updated on: Educator Review By: Michelle Connolly

Besides entertainment, inspiration, and even motivation to take action, films can be a great and more visually satisfying source of knowledge. Through them, we can learn a lot about the world as well as things we were unaware existed, without having to go anywhere.

In this respect, animated films have become the most enjoyable example. Some of them are entirely imaginary, giving much more space to fantasy than reality.

Take, for example, Disney’s animated film, Monsters, Inc. It follows the story of a world of monsters living alongside our world and depends on kids’ screams as a source of energy. There is no such thing in real life, at least that is what we know so far.

Other animated films depict reality in some way and mix it with fantasy elements. An example of this is almost any film that revolves around animals. Zootopia, The Lion King, Kung Fu Panda, Over the Hedge, Sing, and many others star real animals. Through amusing stories, beautiful illustrations, and great music, they teach us a lot about those animals in terms of their habitat, characteristics, behaviours, and generally how they survive.

Could a zoology lesson be more entertainingly informative than that?

Such animal-based animated films can be even more effective and helpful when they tell us about animals that disappeared from the face of the Earth long ago. A famous example of those films is Ice Age. 

Today’s lesson will be about just that, reflecting on some of the beautiful things the film Ice Age introduces to us about the world, from the actual ice age that hit the Earth millions of years ago to some fabulous, now-extinct, prehistoric animals.

Interestingly, though, we are demonstrating each of those fabulous, now-extinct, prehistoric animals in more detail in an independent article published here on our website. So make sure you have a look at those too.

Now without any further do, let’s hop into it.

What are the Ice Age Films About?

Well, Ice Age is not a single film but rather a film series, or franchise, comprising six films. All the films star three real prehistoric animals and an imaginary one who all come together for a different adventure every time.

The first one, Ice Age, was released by the American production company 20th Century Studios back in 2002. That film became a worldwide success and received huge acclaim. This encouraged the producers to make many sequels. Not only that, but they also remade the stories or parts of them in different formats.

For instance, the Ice Age film series is made of six films, the last of which, so far, was released in January 2022. There is also another series of short films comprising seven films, each running for an average of just five minutes. Then, there is also the TV series version of six episodes, like little entertainment nuggets, each lasting for four minutes. 

Finally, two television specials were particularly made for Christmas and Easter and were released in 2011 and 2016, respectively.

The bottom line is the Ice Age franchise has been incredibly successful!

What does the Ice Age film teach us about our planet?

The first, now-20-year-old Ice Age film, which is the one we are concerned about here, revolves around three prehistoric animal characters, Sid, Manny, and Diego, who come together for a noble mission.

As Earth is hit by the Ice Age, temperatures drop significantly, glaciers form, and ice covers the north regions. So all living animals start heading south to look for warmer places and food. While our three heroes are going south, too, they stumble upon an abandoned Eskimo baby girl. They feel sorry for her and decide to look for and give her back to her family.

So Sid, Manny, and Diego give up on going south and head up north, where the Eskimo people live to find Baby Roshan’s parents—yes, that was the name they gave her.

The three characters we mentioned are real animals that thrived on Earth for millions of years. But the film also features Scrat, a tiny rodent-like creature that looks like a rat and a chipmunk combined yet with super long and sharp canine teeth.

Throughout the entire film, Scrat struggles to grab hold of and eat his acorn. While acorns are a real thing, basically nuts, Scrat is not; at least, that is what we know so far.

Now the first Ice Age film informs us about many real things that have existed on Earth. Here are six of them, which we are breaking down in this article.

  1. The ice age, the real one
  2. The Eskimos
  3. Sid
  4. Manny
  5. Diego

So what are these exactly?

What is the real ice age?

When speaking about Earth’s history since its creation around 4.5 billion years ago, scientists usually divide it into geological periods. During these periods, our planet underwent different climatic conditions that significantly changed its geology.

The ice age is one such geological period in which our dear planet experienced an incredible drop in temperature. As a result, the Earth was more or less covered with ice sheets and glaciers, especially in the northern and southern areas near the poles.

ice age
The snowy mountains with a clear sky during daytime

But in fact, the ice age was not just one prolonged period. According to scientists, there have been at least five ‘major’ ice ages. Each lasted for quite some time, measured in billions, million, and thousands of years. Those five primary ice ages were separated by periods of warm climates in which most of the ice completely melted, leaving behind no sheets or glaciers, but just liquid water.

Scientists could learn about the happening of the ice ages by studying the geology of the Earth in terms of soil, rocks, valleys, and mountains, as well as the chemical compositions of fossils and where exactly they are found around the world.

While saying this might sound simple, in reality, it is not at all. Gathering and examining all this information is such a strenuous process. Everything we know now about the ice ages and what we are yet to know was not obtained overnight.

Interestingly, studying the ice ages only started by wondering what caused some geological changes in some valleys of France‘s Alps. That was back in the mid-18th century. Research soon took off, expanded, and continued until scientists found evidence of the ice age.

Not just that, they also concluded that as many as five ice ages must have happened during the Earth’s history, arranged chronologically as follows.

  1. Huronian: this period started 2.5 billion years ago and continued until 2.2 billion years ago. It was internally divided into several shorter ice ages.
  2. Cryogenian: it started 720 million years ago and lasted for 85 million years.
  3. Andean-Saharan: this lasted from 460 million years ago to 420 million years ago—around 40 million years.
  4. Late Paleozoic: this period started 360 million years ago and lasted 105 million years.
  5. Quaternary Ice Age: this last ice age started 2.58 million years ago and is still in progress.

So yes, we are currently living in another ice age, despite summers getting longer and hotter and winters getting shorter.

Then what caused the ice age?

Well, this goes back to when the Earth’s atmosphere only comprised carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) some million years ago. These two are greenhouse gases. They absorb the heat from the Sun, lock it in the atmosphere, and prevent it from escaping to space. So the Earth at the time was pretty warm.

At that time, too, there was no oxygen (O2), but there was a lot of water, sunlight, and a teeny-tiny organism called Cyanobacteria that lived in the ocean. This bacteria evolved to be able to do photosynthesis, so it started doing just that.

Like any regular plant, Cyanobacteria absorbed carbon dioxide (CO2). With the help of water and sunlight, it broke it down to carbon and oxygen. Oxygen accumulated in the ocean, and when the ocean was full, oxygen was released into the air.

Oxygen then reacted with the remaining gas, methane (CH4), to create carbon dioxide and water. Carbon dioxide was again absorbed by Cyanobacteria to release oxygen.

These two reactions caused the amounts of carbon dioxide and methane, the greenhouse gases that kept the Earth warm, to drop significantly. Consequently, temperatures dropped significantly, too, and the first ice age started.

Such changes usually take millions of years to accumulate and cause a tangible impact. And apparently, other atmospheric changes occurred several times throughout Earth’s 4.5 billion-year history to cause those five major ice ages.

Who were the Eskimos?

Simply put, Eskimo refers to the people native to the north pole, and the areas close to it. They have lived in Greenland, northern Canada, northern and southwestern Alaska, USA, and the very northeastern part of Siberia, Russia.

Though these are such large regions, the Eskimos have a common language but different dialects because the regions are too far away from one another to allow the unification of one dialect.

The name Eskimo is thought to have originated with the Native Americans who used to live in eastern Canada long ago. In this context, Eskimo means ‘the eaters of raw flesh’. As you can see, that name does not provide any good connotation about those people. It is racist and violent and may have also spread a negative stereotype about the people.

Another theory claims that the word Eskimo has a French origin that means ‘that who makes snowshoes’. Well, this one is pretty descriptive of those people since they did make snowshoes to survive the freezing weather.

Yet, it seems like the first theory has more weight and is more frequently used than the second. So Eskimo was recently replaced by the Inuit to refer to the same group of people who have lived up there. Meanwhile, the term Eskimo now implies more of an insult.

What animal was Sid?

Well, cute Sid was a ground sloth, and it was the oldest of all the characters, not in terms of age but when they first appeared on Earth.

You may think of ground sloths as distant relatives to tree sloths now extant. Yet, they walked on the ground while modern-day sloths spend most of their time clinging to and dwelling in trees.

The ground sloth is not only one species but so many that vary significantly in size. For instance, the earliest generation of ground sloths is said to have been as big as an elephant. Other species were the size of a domestic cat.

Ground sloths appeared on Earth around 35 million years ago and dispersed in North and South Americas and the Caribbean Sea. They did live there for a long time until they completely disappeared about 10,000 years ago from the Americas and 4,000 years ago from the Caribbean Sea.

What about Manny?

Though it looks so much like an elephant with its super large body, long muscular trunk, and the pair of sharp curvy tusks, Manny was not an elephant but rather a mammoth.

That said, the mammoth is still, in some way, related to the elephant. According to scientists, both giants already descended from the same ancestor around six million years ago. Then they split, and each moved somewhere, thrived, and evolved.

But if you look closely, you will spot some differences. For instance, the mammoth lacked the elephant’s giant floppy ears. The mammoth’s entire body was also covered with shaggy brown fur to protect it against the cold. In addition, the mammoth’s tusks are long, curvy, and sometimes even twisted.

The mammoth appeared on Earth about 4.9 million years ago in Africa. From there, it dispersed to most of the planet. It survived on Earth for so long and is said to have gone extinct only a thousand and a half years ago or so.

Unlike the ground sloth, only seven mammoth species were there. They diverged from one another and may have co-existed in different places. The most notable species and the latest to evolve and go extinct was named the woolly mammoth after its wool-like fur. 

Manny, from the Ice Age film, was a woolly mammoth.

What about Diego?

Well, Diego was a giant cat. Yet, it is not closely related to modern-day big cats such as lions, jaguars, or leopards, nor is it like tigers.

Diego was a smilodon.

Smiloldons were apex predators. If you remember from our previous articles on the polar bear, the lion, or the wolf, apex predators are those animals on top of the food chain. They are meat-eaters that feed on other animals, but no other animal feeds on them. 

Smilodons appeared on Earth about 2.5 million years ago in North America then migrated to South America. Smilodons went extinct around 10,000 years ago though why this happened is still mysterious to scientists.

Different species of smilodon ranged in size. The smallest, for instance, weighed 77.5 kg on average, while the largest species was as heavy as 436 kg. That is even heavier than the most giant reported lion, which weighs 313 kg, according to the Guinness World Records.

Interestingly, the South American Diego fossils were found first in the 1830s in Brazil. Around three decades later, in 1869, the first smilodon fossils were found in Texas, USA.

Smilodons were large cats characterised by super long, sharp, and pretty scary canine teeth running down the chin with a length of 28 cm at maximum. These teeth are known as sabre teeth. The name smilodon is descriptive of these sabre teeth, derived from two Greek words that together mean double-edged knife. What a name!


And here comes the end of today’s journey in which we explored the two ice ages, the animated film and the actual geological period. 

In this article, we discussed some (and hopefully interesting) facts about the ice age film series and how it, besides being amusing, does provide some good knowledge about the real ice age, prehistoric animals, and even the people who survived it.

Then we discussed the ice age as a geological period during which the Earth was freezing cold thanks to some accumulative changes in the atmosphere. We also understood that the entire Earth’s history was alternative periods of ice and no ice.

After that, we learned some information about the Inuit (previously Eskimo) people who lived through an ice age, where their original name came from, and why it was changed.

Finally, we looked a little into the three now-extinct animals that appeared in the film: Sid the ground sloth, Manny the woolly mammoth, and Diego, a large sabre-toothed cat called smilodon.

We hope you liked this lesson as much as we loved writing it for you. Each of the three extinct animals briefly mentioned above is discussed independently in more detail over two lessons to come. So make sure you come back to our website to learn more about Sid, Manny, Diego, and many other extinct and extant animals.

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