Spoilers ahead for The Last of Us (and Ice Age if you really care in 2023)
A few weeks ago, Pedro Pascal starred in a parody mashup of Super Mario and HBO’s The Last of Us (TLOU) for Saturday Night Live.
I didn’t find it very funny; not that it matters, but for some reason I wanted to know why. After a bit of thought, I realised.
It just didn’t seem like that ridiculous a concept to me.
Firstly. A Mario movie set in a hellish dystopia? It already exists (for reference, look at Bob Hoskins’ filmography).
On top of that, it’s not like there haven’t been animated films with dark themes before. Heck, there are plenty of cartoon characters with more developed arcs than in many live-action dramas.
So, I kept thinking about animated films and characters. Then, a sudden thought dawned on me.
The Last of Us and Ice Age have an eerily similar premise.
The more I thought about it, the more I realised that these films fit perfectly together. Both take place during extinction events.
Both stories are about delivering a child cross country to a group of survivors. It is even the same country. A quick Google tells me that the mammoth, sloth, and sabre tooth tiger species featured in Ice Age all lived in North America.
And both feature a lonely broken man, forming a bond with the child they swore to protect. At first, this just made me laugh a bit. But then, I realised that as a pair, each film says a lot about the other.
In particular, Manny says a lot about Joel, and vice versa. They both start their arcs at a similar place. They each lose everything. In Ice Age, we learn Manny’s family were slaughtered by a human tribe. In TLOU, Joel’s daughter dies tragically at the beginning of the outbreak.
As a result, both become cold. Focused on survival and nothing else, they cut themselves off from society.
Then, after being entrusted with a child’s safety, the two soften slowly. Their rough shells start to crack, and they start to form relationships and care for those around them.
Manny bonds with the baby, and his new companions. Joel bonds with Ellie. Both slowly learn to love again.
But despite these similarities, they have one major difference. And not just that Manny is a mammoth and Joel is a human, as ChatGPT was so kind to input. I actually noticed that myself.
It’s in the conclusion to their arcs, that the two reveal their differences.
Manny returns the baby to its tribe. Despite what humans took from him, he doesn’t want anyone to suffer the same fate. He walks away with his new “herd”, realising he needs other people.
It’s a simple, straightforward character arc about love and selflessness, perfect for a kid’s film.
Joel’s arc in TLOU on the other hand subverts these tropes. It is a dark, thought-provoking narrative about the dangers of love.
Joel’s compassion for Ellie leads him to murder anyone who gets in his way. He sacrifices the happiness of everyone else for his own, and ultimately dooms humanity in the process.
What I’m trying to say is that these two characters showcase different sides of love. Where Joel is selfish, Manny is selfless.
Essentially, Manny is a better man than Joel, which is ironic given his species, but then maybe not given his name.
And that is why I think Ice Age and The Last of Us, are the perfect unlikely companion pieces.
Featured Image Credit: Naughty Dog / Sony