Ice Age: Continental Drift is the fourth film to feature the adventures of the post-dinosaur, pre-caveman pals Manny the wooly mammoth, Sid the sloth and Deigo the sabertoothed tiger, but Fox has been smart enough not to put a number in the title. Without the number, how are parents to realize how much of their, and their precious children’s, precious time has already been spent with these annoying creatures?
The good news is, we’re moving right along in terms of natural history. In this film, thanks to continental drift caused by the earth’s shifting plates, Manny (Ray Romano), Sid (John Leguizamo) and Diego (Denis Leary) are separated from their friends and family and cast adrift into the ocean on a chunk of ice, along with Sid’s shrewish, long-lost grandmother (Wanda Sykes). Obnoxiousness runs in the sloth family. Meanwhile, Manny’s wife Ellie (Queen Latifah) and their daughter Peaches (Keke Palmer), now a hormonal teenager, are left behind on uncertain ground. (Whether it is Pangaea, or the Earth has already subdivided is unclear.) The rest of the movie involves their attempts to reunite against considerable odds, including pirates, water spouts and giant waves for Manny et al. and crumbling cliffs and traversing land masses for the ladies.
Directed by Steve Martino and Mike Thurmeier (the latter of whom also co-directed Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs), this Ice Age features a bounty of new voice talent. Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones, The Station Agent) plays Captain Gutt, a chimpanzee who leads the scurvy band of pirates. Jennifer Lopez gets to follow in Angelina Jolie’s Kung Fu Panda feline footsteps, playing Captain Gutt’s first mate, a slinky sabertoothed tiger named Shira. (Ways you can tell this is a J.Lo character: accessories. Shira wears two turquoise earrings in one ear that play up her eye color.) Parks and Recreation’s Aziz Ansari, Bridesmaid’s Rebel Wilson and Glee’s Heather Morris are all in the voice cast, but thanks to the constant din of shrieking, shrill animals, I couldn’t match their voices with any of the dozens of irritating characters on either the pirate ship or back on land.
Not that it particularly matters; your kids don’t care whether that funny lady from The View (Joy Behar) is in their animated flick or who she’s playing. They might not mind the visual overload either, but the frenetic pace masks an emptiness; this Ice Age is just a collection of slapstick moments and fisticuffs, with pauses for Sid to regurgitate food into his paw and show it to everyone. The franchise is just going through the motions at this point, and even the animation feels by-the-numbers. (The Ice Age movies are not known for their great animation, but even in the third movie, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, there were some beautiful nature sequences, whereas there is nothing memorable here.)
The usual premise, that friends stick together, no matter their species, has been extended to include lessons for both parents and children. Before plate tectonics intervene, Manny is a helicopter parent who spends an inordinate amount of time following Peaches as she attempts to hang with the cool crowd at their gathering place, a waterfall. “That’s a gateway!” Manny frets. (Drug references, they mean so much to small children.) Peaches is in the throes of her first crush, on another wooly mammoth—”He’s not cute. He’s hot!” she says. At the very moment she shouts, “I wish you weren’t my father,” the earth begins to shake and the continents start to break apart–daddy is just gone. Talk about your wish fulfillment. While Peaches learns to regret her harsh words, Manny comes to realize he needs to trust his capable child more, just as Marlin did in Finding Nemo, even if Ice Age lacks the wit and loveliness of spirit that made Nemo so special.
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So mammoths, they’re just like us, and not just while at loggerheads with offspring. Sid the sloth has to deal with the responsibility of aging grandparents (Grandma has dementia). And Diego, the crotchety saber-toothed tiger (Leary’s voice work is the best in the film) finally finds love with sleek Shira. Everybody makes personal progress in this movie. All this anthropomorphizing is commonplace in movies for kids, obviously, but in Ice Age it’s particularly grating because it reflects not so much real human behavior as human behavior as put forth by our pop culture. The pirate business is pulled straight from Pirates of the Caribbean and the teen tantrums feel ripped from a Nickelodeons sitcom. “Stress is so stressful,” one of the teen mammoths says. That profundity is so profound.
Needless to say, I am looking forward to Ice Age: Dawn of Meat-Eating Man. Also needless to say, kids are likely to judge this Ice Age far less harshly. And they will ask you what continental drift means, so there is at least that modicum of learning involved.
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