REVIEW: Ice Age: Continental Drift Hits for Uninspired Blockbuster Average
Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted was an unexpectedly charming addition to the summer's kiddie flick franchise pile-up, better and stranger than, honestly, it needed to be in a subgenre that is, Pixar aside, usually just about merchandising potential and providing enough bright moving objects to occupy young attention spans for 80 minutes. People hoping for the same pleasant surprise when escorting offspring to Ice Age: Continental Drift might as well pre-crush those hopes in advance before donning their 3-D glasses — the film, the fourth in the series from Blue Sky Studios, is just a sugary jumble of goofy voices, hyperkinetic action scenes and rote plot elements that rolls forward just enough to get us to the de rigueur pop song that plays over the closing credits.
Ice Age: Continental Drift finds the series' makeshift herd of glacial period animals still together and not eating each other (the carnivores in the group presumably have learned to eat only non-speaking extras). Mammoths Manny (Ray Romano) and Ellie (Queen Latifah) have a now teenage daughter named Peaches (Keke Palmer) whose best friend, molehog Louis (Josh Gad), is nursing an inconvenient cross-species crush on her. (She, unfortunately for him, has eyes only for fellow mammoth Ethan, voiced by rapper Drake). Saber-toothed tiger Diego (Denis Leary) remains grumpy, while sloth Sid (John Leguizamo) is still ignorantly blissful, even when the family that abandoned him stops by to leave his senile Granny (Wanda Sykes) in his company and then takes off immediately after.
The plot's precipitated by the series mascot Scrat (Chris Wedge), an acorn-loving saber-toothed squirrel whose journey always frames and runs parallel to the main storyline, and who triggers the rapid breakup of the continents (a process that took millions and millions of years but here happens in maybe a day) by planting his prized nut in a place that manages to crack open the Earth's crust. The shifting land masses break up the mammoth family, forcing Ellie, Peaches and all to march toward safer territory while Manny, Diego, Sid and Granny end up adrift in the sea for an oddly nautical adventure. They encounter and do battle with pirates, led by the ape Captain Gutt (Peter Dinklage), who use icebergs as ships they're able to steer with helpful twig technology.
Ice Age: Continental Drift is a children's animated movie, and to complain about it not making sense, not having characters who require more than a one-adjective description, and not being very funny to anyone over the age of 6 may seem beside the point, — except, well, Pixar has proven things needn't be this way. Ice Age: Continental Drift isn't bad so much as its devoid of anything particularly good, including the animation. The characters in general have the odd texture of ratty stuffed toys rather than furry living animals, and they're designed in such a way as to sometimes defy expression — when the camera closes in on Manny's face to show his alarm, it ends up only framing his two eyes and a giant, fuzzy stretch of trunk, as if someone forgot we wouldn't be able to see his mouth. The teenage mammoths have been given strange human haircuts on top of their Elephantidae heads, as if they're a meld between an extinct species and a Bratz doll.
It's Sid and Scrat who come off the best by being built like they belong in the Looney Tunes-esque elastic universe from which the film's action takes its cue. When Sid melts into a heap after eating a paralyzing berry, the clever physicality of it — Manny scoops him up and tosses him to safety on a glacier, only to have him slide right bonelessly off — is entertainingly done. And Scrat's voyage has the freedom of the surreal, from the giant ball-bearing that he bounces off of at the center of the world to the map he finds at the bottom of the ocean, the pressure squashing him to a fraction of his original size. While the main characters have battles on glaciers and encounters with sirens who seem to be there only to fill out the runtime, Scrat skitters across the surface of the water and finds his way to a Greece-inspired saber-toothed squirrel utopia that he instantly ruins. And he, blissfully, doesn't speak.
The other animals, sadly, do, in their array of celebrity voices (Nicki Minaj, Aziz Ansari, Nick Frost and Seann William Scott also pop up behind different animated faces), and they grumble their way through an assembly of prepackaged dramas that feels like a few sitcom episodes mashed together — Diego fights and then falls for pirate crew member Shira (Jennifer Lopez), Manny learns not to be so overprotective of his growing daughter and Sid realizes he's not a screw-up or something. It's the kind of indifferent filmmaking that wouldn't be so offensive if it weren't so often hugely financially successful — it's the effort of a large group of people, plenty of them talented, to turn out something barely adequate.