Ice Age: Continental Drift
What It Is
Sid the Sloth (John Leguizamo) has never been especially quick, but near the start of Ice Age: Continental Drift, he comes up with a zinger. The occasion is a surprising visit from his parents, Eunice (Joy Behar) and Milton (Alan Tudyk), during which he tries to convince them that he’s led a worthy, adventurous life since they abandoned him. “We fought dinosaurs,” he announces, alluding to the previous Ice Age movie’s plot. “It didn’t really make sense, but it was fun.” And with that, his parents abandon him again.
The moment makes clear a few things about this fourth installment of the franchise. Again, it adheres to the previous films’ formula. Again, it knows that it’s premised on nonsense. And again, it makes use of trauma (in this case, childhood trauma) in pursuit of humor. The other gigantic trauma this time involves the creation of the continents, here initiated by yet another effort by Scrat (Chris Wedge) to secure an acorn, an effort that splits open the earth from the core outward (the plot, more or less, of a previous Scrat short).
Here the franchise sets up to recycle itself, as Sid joins up again with Manny the mammoth (Ray Romano) and Diego the sabre-toothed cat (Denis Leary) to head off on a journey. This time, the drifting continents separate Manny from his wife Ellie (Queen Latifah) and now teenaged daughter Peaches (Keke Palmer); and so the film cuts repeatedly between two wholly different plots, the guys (plus Sid’s toothless granny [Wanda Sykes]) and everyone else, all trying to reach a land bridge they imagine will remain intact amid all the freighting plate-shifting and surface-cracking, a plot that will be familiar to viewers of Happy Feet 2.
While Peaches follows in her mother’s gigantic footsteps, crushing on a guy, Ethan (Drake) whom her father dislikes, the guys’ plot takes another sort of familiar turn, when they run into a pirates’ ship (made of ice), captained by a big bully of an ape named Gutt (Peter Dinklage), whose threats to gut his victims are only the first way this plot strand recalls Pirates of the Caribbean. He’s attended by a crew of sidekicks (including Aziz Ansari as a rabbit and Nick Frost as an elephant seal) and determined to wreak revenge on Manny, especially, when the mammoth thwarts his plan to make the sloths walk the plank.
Captain Gutt’s first mate happens to be a female sabre-toothed cat, Shira (Jennifer Lopez), an obvious love interest for Diego, an opportunity for Manny and Sid to make fun by way of the oh-so-ancient sitting-in-the-tree rhyme, and something of a rip-off of Tigress (Angelina Jolie) in Kung Fu Panda, not to mention Gia the jaguar (Jessica Chastain) of Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted.
All this copying of other movies overloads this one with subplots — Scrat shows up periodically, always chasing his acorn; the pirates disappear and reappear; the Ice Age trio sails close to a mythic-seeming shore populated by “sirens” (an idea borrowed from The Odyssey by way of Pirates of the Caribbean 4: On Stranger Tides and eventually revealed to be some kind of google-eyed fish); Peaches comes to realize that Ethan is not so loyal as her childhood friend, the plucky molehog Louis (Josh Gad); and Ellie, well, she very conveniently pops into scenes whenever a mom’s soothing guidance seems needed. All this business leads where you know it must, a lesson that a herd is better than a crew, because, Diego says, a herd — read: an extended, makeshift, alternative family — has your back. Manny learns another lesson too, that as his little girl is growing up, she’s learning to integrate her family background and her appreciation of the herd.
Why It’s Fun
The latest installment in the Ice Age franchise is an opportunistic movie, grabbing up a number of trendy threads and tossing them about. The result, while lively, is less a coherent tapestry than an unruly and not especially rewarding tangle.
The 3D effects are average, most obviously deployed in an early scene featuring a sled, when ships crash through waves, or when plates shift so that animals and other objects fall.
Who’s Going To Love It
Fans of the first three Ice Age movies might be happy to see another, though they might also be unimpressed that this one has so few new ideas.
Fans of the film’s featured pop music stars — Jennifer Lopez, Queen Latifah, Nicki Minaj, Keke Palmer, and Drake — have to settle for two songs only, a raucous number performed by the pirates (who are not pop stars) and the closing credits tune, sung by Palmer.
Good fun can be found in the four and a half minute short that precedes the film, The Longest Daycare, in which Maggie Simpson finds herself deposited at the Ayn Rand School for Tots. Here, as you might guess, she’s on her own, battling a dark-browed bully who’s prone to smash butterflies, splat on the wall, and draw frames around them so they appear to be “art.” When goodhearted Maggie decides to save a caterpillar from this terrible fate, the two tots face off in a series of antic confrontations and deceptions. Maggie emerges triumphant and adorable.
What To Be Aware Of
The environmental traumas visited on the animals are daunting: the earth moves, floods threaten, and storms rack the seas. These loudly wrench apart Manny and his family, and the Ice Age trio and their friends, leading to tears and worries and promises to reunite.
Diego’s stop-and-start romance with Shira suggests a theme throughout the four Ice Age films. Like Sid and Manny, he’s spent much of his life alone; indeed, these similar experiences produce their three-way mutual appreciation back in the first movie — that he’s slow to recognize his romantic interest in Shira, an interest that everyone else can see easily. Herein, we see how the movie is caught between two ideas: creatures of dissimilar backgrounds benefit from getting together, sharing their differences rather than fearing them, but at the same time, they’re best matched up with beings like themselves. It’s a problem based in the movie’s faux biology, as species tend not to crossbreed. It’s also a problem the movie can’t solve logically.
The sloths occasion repeated jokes (again) about their tendency to pre-chew and vomit up food.
A few too many old-lady jokes at Sid’s granny’s expense, having to do with her gums, her deafness, and her seeming dementia.
The girl mammoths who hang around with Ethan (voiced by Nicki Minaj, Ally Romano [Ray’s daughter] and Heather Morris) are small-minded, gossipy, and cruelly judgmental. They serve the purpose of pushing Peaches back toward her mother and Louis, but they’re also a depressingly stereotypical pack of “girls.”
5 out of 10
Ice Age: Continental Drift
Directors: Steve Martino, Michael Thurmeier
Cast: Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, Queen Latifah, Peter Dinklage, Jennifer Lopez, Wanda Sykes, Keke Palmer
Studio: 20th Century Fox
US General Release: July 13, 2012
UK General Release: July 13, 2012