The Ice Age series of films is akin to that person who drifts in and out of your life from time to time and you are happy to initially see, but grow weary of very quickly. Those Scrat vignettes, common to the Ice Age franchise, where a wayward acorn consistently causes much pain and agony to a saber-toothed squirrel, have long outstayed their welcome, and yet with Ice Age: Continental Drift, we have the fourth theatrically released entry in this franchise. And not surprisingly, Ice Age: Continental Drift is, once again, a bland, mediocre, and uninspired mix of comedy, action, and youth-oriented humor and suspense. And yet, these films make money. Each film more than the previous one. I imagine audiences will come out in droves for this one as well.
The issue is not that Ice Age films are badly made below-the-line. Quite the contrary. The animation is crisp and innovative and the technical aspects of the films generate a pleasing aesthetic. These characters though, their stories and narratives, are simply, if not always, boring and unimaginative. With the inroads this franchise has made since its arrival in 2002, Manny the Mammoth (Ray Romano), his wife Ellie (Queen Latifah), Sid the Sloth (John Leguizamo), Diego the Sabre-Toothed Cat (Denis Leary) should all be megastars like Shrek and Donkey, Woody and Buzz, or even those Madagascar Penguins. Honestly, do you know anyone clamoring for these characters to return? I know of no kids that have Ice Age merchandise or toys or even talk about these characters, leaving me to think that perhaps kids and families just sort of tolerate these films when they come along every few years, begrudgingly buying tickets as a stop-gap until the next family film event arrives at the multiplex.
Using the now tried-and-true formula of Scrat providing interstitial breaks from the main story, Scrat’s attempts to possess one acorn, this time leading him to the inner core of the Earth, underscores a massive continental shift resulting in the continental makeup of today’s Earth and, in turn, wreaking havoc on the lives of our main animal characters. Manny becomes separated from his wife and teenage daughter, Peaches (Keke Palmer), and is left to travel on a makeshift iceberg with Diego and Sid and Sid’s abandoned grandmother, Granny (Wanda Sykes), while Peaches bemoans teenage self-esteem issues and an unrequited crush on popular mammoth, Ethan (Drake).
As Manny realizes he is going to be separated from his family, he tells wife and daughter to head towards a land bridge which will allow them to reunite. However, Manny, Diego, Sid, and Granny find themselves caught up in a pirate adventure, where a gang of ruthless pirates attempt to convince the kindly mammoth to join their ranks. Naturally, Manny is not interested and so the leader of the gang, Gutt (Peter Dinklage, trying his hardest here…), decides to keep them as hostages. Manny leads an escape and the pirates are vanquished. But with Diego taken by a female counterpart, Shira (Jennifer Lopez), Diego’s connection with Shira only allows the pirates to resurface and come back and try to stop the reunion at the land bridge and on and on and on…
I will not mince words about Ice Age: Continental Drift. I found little enjoyment with this installment whatsoever. Everything is paint-by-numbers, the characters are unremarkable and forgettable, and I frankly stopped caring years ago about whether Scrat gets that stupid acorn or not. At best, and only in a few brief and fleeting moments, I was amused with the humor and when not shifting in my seat to stay awake, I found myself watching a storyline play out before me that left me agitated and aggravated.
When compared to the recent Brave, which centers around a story of a young woman balancing defiance with confidence and defining her sense of individuality with a connection to family and especially her mother, Ice Age: Continental Drift decides to crowbar in Peaches’ teenage struggles of self-esteem and making friends. The crush she has on Ethan also comes with Ethan being in a clique of mean-spirited and selfish souls – a/k/a “the popular group” – and essentially devolves into Peaches trying to not only become a girlfriend to Ethan, but to also be accepted by said group. So, Peaches opines for Ethan, Ethan is nice to her, Ethan’s clique is mean and immature and Peaches’ best friend, a hedgehog named Louis (Josh Gad), harbors his own mammoth-sized crush on Peaches. Where all of this ends up might make middle school and high school counselors, and some parents alike, cringe and wince.
And don’t even get me started on the supposed payoff to the Scrat storyline. If you overlooked his annoying character traits before, just wait to see how stupid and ridiculous he becomes here. Honestly, what a dolt.
Ice Age: Continental Drift is a way to pass time, but it is likewise a complete disappointment. Already a massive hit overseas prior to its North American release, I am sure a fifth Ice Age film is being considered and perhaps even written. I can only beg them to let things end here. Why people embrace Ice Age films and yet, for example, the beautiful and touching 2012 film The Secret World Of Arrietty can only land a couple of weeks in theaters, baffles me.
I understand that all movies, and especially animated children’s films such as this one are escapist and for some, cinematic babysitters. And yet for all the money made, Ice Age films do not really or truly connect with their audiences. They just exist. Perhaps, with this film proving that the Ice Age franchise is exhausted, tired, and wheezy, perhaps the worst film yet in the Ice Age series will spell its much-needed demise.
NOTE: Honestly, if you see this in theaters, the animated short starring Maggie Simpson, The Longest Daycare is fantastic and almost worth the ticket price alone for 4-and-a-half minutes of great storytelling – all with little or no dialogue whatsoever. Look for it somewhere and somehow, be it in front of Ice Age or home video or anywhere else.