For all of the numerous subplots, animal characters, voice talents, fast-paced animated pandemonium built entirely at the service of 3D, and all the other stuff being hurled at the presumably adolescent audience, “Ice Age: Continental Drift” equals out to be a pretty boring movie. In fact, it peaks right around ten minutes into the screening, because 1) the film is preceded by a short film starring Maggie of “The Simpsons” titled “The Longest Daycare,” and 2) the pre-title introduction includes Scrat the squirrel getting into more of his dialogue-free, visual-based shenanigans. His bit is relatively fun. But then again, this character has always been the most entertaining part of these movies ever since the first sequel, 2006’s “Ice Age: The Meltdown.”
Scrat (voiced in curt squeals, sniffles, and yelps by Chris Wedge) sets everything in motion like the bumbling clockmaker. On the rodent’s everlasting quest to find precious acorns, he descends into the center of the earth (don’t ask) and inadvertently creates the modern-day continents by ricocheting off the inner core as though he’s trapped inside a berserk pinball machine. Scrat is responsible for rifting of Pangaea, eh? Just wait until the end when Scrat is also shown submerging the city of Atlantis (or Scratlantis). The series timeline is somehow even more convoluted than it was before.
Needless to say, Scrat’s mistakes have severe ramifications back on the surface of the earth. The land divides, sweeping and separating animals from each other. Isolated on a convenient platform of ice and drifting out to sea is the usual assemblage, or as I call them, the original Wolf Pack: Manny the woolly mammoth (Ray Romano), Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo), and Diego the saber-toothed tiger (Denis Leary).
In addition, there’s Sid’s saggy old granny (Wanda Sykes), a superfluous comic relief character whose only role is to offer jokes stemming from her senility. Though the word ‘joke’ might be a poor choice of vocabulary, for that generally implies that humor is somewhere to be found in the neighborhood.
The gang gets shanghaied out at sea, and are hauled onboard a colossal iceberg vessel occupied by prehistoric pirates. The scurvy crew is commanded by a beardy, unkempt ape named Captain Gutt (Peter Dinklage), looking and sounding an awful lot like a non-evolved form of Barbossa from the “Pirates Of The Caribbean” movies. Gutt’s trusty first mate is Shira (Jennifer Lopez), a snowy white tigress that sorta takes a liking to Diego, while the remainder of the shipmates seems about as intimidating as The Three Stooges in pirate garb. Now there’s a movie!
Gutt offers his captives the opportunity to sail the (very recently established) seven seas with the rest of his pirate crew, but they have other things in mind. Particularly Manny, who is separated from his family following the continental shakeup. He and Ellie (Queen Latifah) are in the process of raising their daughter Peaches (Keke Palmer) through that awful time period known as teen years, in which all species seem to become stupid, shallow, and terrible with their own priorities and values. Trust me, I know my kind.
Y’see, Peaches is infatuated with Ethan (hip-hop star Drake), the sexy teen heartthrob of the mammoth world, but doesn’t think she’ll ever have a shot if she keeps hanging out with Louis (Josh Gad), a runty but reliable molehog who lacks any shred of pretense and, in all honesty, probably deserves a better friend than the one he’s stuck with. Of course Peaches does the right thing by the end of the film, but something about this subplot doesn’t sit right. Maybe it’s the lame writing given to the generically cool characters. Maybe it’s the resolution, which doesn’t feel as sincere or real as it should. Maybe it’s because fingernails grinding on a chalkboard are preferable to Nicki Minaj’s vocal work as one of Ethan’s ubiquitous devotees.
I dunno. I just wasn’t moved by either the pirate adventure or the teen drama. All it did was make me think of the original “Ice Age” from 2002, which was an honestly good animated family film. In addition to being funny, it was also touching, subtle, atmospheric, and surprising foreboding. There was a genuinely threatening undercurrent beneath the story, which was about how three clashing personalities had to put aside their differences and work together to bring an infant back to its parents. Come to think of it, what happened to the humans in this series? Did they become extinct or something?
“Ice Age: Continental Drift,” just like the other sequels, is like a watered-down sitcom version of the original: it pulls no punches, it makes little to no use of its characters, and is instantly forgettable. Other than for the ephemeral glimpses of what Scrat is up to, this is exclusively for really little kids.
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