“It didn’t make sense, but it sure was exciting.”
That line is spoken by Sid the Sloth very early on in Ice Age: Continental Drift, used to explain away the fact Paleolithic mammals met up with Cretaceous era dinosaurs in the series third entry. It proves that the creators of this franchise are more than fully aware of what it is they are making; to point, its a big, fat ‘kiddie flick’.
Not a family film or even a children’s movie, but one of those cash cows that’s been churned out to excite the tykes, keep them from being bored, and hopefully sell some toys. Parents, you can come too, but we aren’t gonna try too hard to entertain you. Continental Drift is no different in that respect, but it doesn’t take its job lightly. True, most of it doesn’t make sense, but some of it really is surprisingly exciting. That’s more than I can say for the extended joke that has become Madagascar.
Jumping into a franchise that is now some 10 years old, Ice Age is really starting to look a bit mangy around the midsection. The sillier, goofier—and lighter—cousin of the Don Bluth 80’s concoction, The Land Before Time (whose own sequels rank in the trillions), Ice Age never pretended poignancy or sharp wit. The original was even refreshing in its refusal to be anything other than a good-natured ‘cartoon’. Now, Blue Sky and its talented animators are running out of visually intriguing scenarios for the three central heroes to go through.
Last time we got a lost world full of lush jungles and giant dinosaurs. Now, it’s the ultimate alliteration; a punctured Pangea plus a pirate picture performed with pelted pachyderms pitted against a pitiless primate. I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the exact line used in the pitch meeting. Bonus shares to the guy who suggested Peter Dinklage voice the scurvy ape captain.
Manfred the mammoth(Ray Romano), Sid the Sloth (John Leguizamo), and Diego the sabertooth (Denis Leary) get hauled out of retirement to once again leap into adventure, overcome obstacles and best bad guys, all while paying as much possible lip-service to the endless power of family and friends. The action scenes stretch logic to the breaking point, but the movie finds time for enough jokes and thrills to mostly justify a matinee ticket. What I guess I’m trying to say is that it’s the Lethal Weapon 4 of cartoon animal movies.
When the continents shift apart, Manny and his buds, along with Sid’s wacky Granny(Wanday Sykes), find themselves seperated from their families and facing a gang of pirates to return home. Trying to get back to Manny are his wife Ellie (Queen Latifah) and daughter Peaches (Keke Palmer) who must make their way to one of the few remaining—but sinking!—land bridges. In addition to Sykes senile and absurd Granny, there are several new characters along for the ride, including Jennifer Lopez’s albino sabretooth, Shira, and The Dink as Captain Glutt, the ornery ape that proves more menacing than most cartoon heavies. There’s also an island of acorns and a herd of warrior lemmings which remind of Ewoks. Don’t forget, of course, about Scrat, that crazy primordial squirrel just trying to get a nut. Par for the course, Scrat features in the movie’s best bits.
The story feels reheated, and it’s not as cohesive as the first outing or as much simple fun as the third; in many respects it feels like a filler pic, designed to keep the characters in circulation but pushed out without a really good central theme. I suspect it’s an issue of visual diversity, the animators want to keep pushing their craft forward, but where’s the challenge in the same icy tundra? This is why we got dinosaurs last go-round, and a vast prehistoric ocean in Continental Drift. The drama and the characters have stalled. Scrat may come from the Looney Tunes tradition but Manny, Sid and Diego are stuck in a buddy sitcom and Romano, Leary, and Leguizamo don’t offer much outside of the usual family-friendly platitudes and generic slapstick.
If Ice Age doesn’t offer anything of great interest in the story and the characters, it’s the animators that come through for the audience. The series and its crazy collection of critters has never looked better or more expressive than they do here. The pirate ship built from an iceberg, an island full of lemmings, and a battle with an oversized crab—one more 2012 homage to Harryhausen—are some of the many imaginative treats the artist have devised for audiences. The action scenes and the sight gags do their work, and the 3D is well handled, adding an interactive quality to the slender events that should thrill particularly young children.
At some level, that’s a recommendation for Ice Age: Continental Drift. For very little tykes, this may in fact be the movie event of the summer, as there’s only been the hyperactive (and half-baked) Madagascar and the more ambitious but less age appropriate Brave to choose from. Ice Age gives them characters they know and love, going on an adventure that isn’t original but looks great. It’s not Kung-Fu Panda, but it’ll do in a pinch.
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