Seeing Ice Age: Continental Drift shortly after Brave (review) certainly doesn’t benefit the former film. Brave might not be a perfect movie, but it is a movie that was made with a lot of heart and passion towards the project. It makes Ice Age’s glaring lack of ambition seem even moreso obvious. The good news is that the kids, who are the film’s primary audience, will get their money worth seeing their beloved characters back in another adventure and everyone’s favorite saber-toothed squirrel Scrat promoted to an even bigger role this time around. That is not to say that the first three Ice Age films weren’t very much kids-oriented, but in this one the attempts to appeal to the young ones in the crowd appear more obvious than ever, concluding with a happy sing-and-dance number throughout the end credits in which even the film’s antagonists happily participate. Judging by the energetic reactions of the numerous children in the audience, the movie achieves what it set out to do. Sadly, that isn’t much.
Ice Age: Continental Drift sees Scrat as the catalyst of the film’s events. His relentless pursuit of an acorn sees him causing a tectonic disturbance which leads to the formation of the continents that we know today and separates our protagonists’ trio from their herd. Yes, the movie is about as much a useful lesson to children about geological history as the third movie was about paleontology. In particular suffering is Manny (again voiced by Ray Romano) who is hell-bent on returning to his mate Ellie (Queen Latifah) and their daughter Peaches (Keke Palmer). Stuck on a floating ice sheet Manny, Diego (Denis Leary), Sid (John Leguizamo) and Sid’s senile granny (Wanda Sykes) encounter menacing (yet still sufficiently kid-friendly) pirates, led by ruthless Gutt (Peter Dinklage), a prehistoric giant ape. Gutt and his band of misfits (which also includes Jennifer Lopez-voiced Shira, a romantic interest for Diego) want to make our heroes part of their crew. Once they show little interest in piracy, Gutt decides to dispose of them in the ocean.
From first minute to last throughout its 94-minutes running time, the fourth installment in the hugely successful animated franchise not for a moment deviates from the well-trodden paths of the series. The heroes are faced with obstacles that they overcome rather easily, the plot is interspersed with Scrat’s chase after the acorn (or, in this case, a promised land of acorns) and there is an easily-digestible take-home message for families about the importance of staying true to your. The latter comes in form of Manny’s teenage daughter Peaches who’s best friends with Louis, a molehog (who in the way of interspecies erotica seems to be very smitten with her), but would rather be hanging out with the cool kids, err, mammoths. Whenever the movie’s plot doesn’t focus on our main protagonists, it shifts to Peaches’ token teenage troubles and attempts to fit in at all costs, essentially making half of a movie a flat-out teen dramedy. The only saving grace to that part, are Ellie’s surrogate brothers, Eddie and Crash, two opossums who wear their silliness on their sleeves and provide some of the film’s few genuine laughs.
The other half of the plot is more entertaining, featuring Sid, Manny and Diego escaping the pirate ship and planning to seize another ship in order to return home loosely (and I mean very loosely) follows the Odyssey. Homer’s epic poem, that is. At the very least there is lotus-eating and sirens with the latter being one of the film’s most impressive (and downright creepy) offerings. Overall, the visuals look more polished than in the three predecessors and the 3D is well-done, employing more in-your-face effects than I have seen in any other recent movie.
The standouts among the characters are the Scrat (though he dangerously veers into the territory of overexposure) and Dinkalge’s surprisingly sinister foil to the main characters’ attempts to get home. I’d go as far as ranking his Captain Gutt as the series’ most memorable villain thus far. And yet the movie cannot capture the fun of the first Ice Age movie and, yes, even its first sequel which holds up surprisingly well. The Ice Age films have never aimed for Pixar’s creative heights, but the first two movies offered undeniably jolly fun. However as the series progressed the jokes got sillier and the characters more often annoying than cute. The trendy pop music doesn’t help matters either. Ice Age: Continental Drift is a slight improvement over the tedious third film (whose Buck character has a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo in this film) and will certainly satisfy the under-12 year olds with plentiful of infantile humor and tons of gimmicky 3D, but anyone older is much better-advised to check out Brave for a second (or even third time).
Significantly better than the main feature is the dialogue-free 4 ½-minute short that precedes it. The Longest Daycare is the first 3D take on The Simpsons and features Maggie Simpson and her arch-nemesis Baby Gerald.
On a sidenote: does typecasting now extend to voice work too? Or how else to explain that Nick Frost has been cast as a 4,000 pound elephant seal whose enormous weight is referenced numerous times throughout the film?