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Movie Review: Ice Age: Continental Drift

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Seems like the creators of Ice Age: Continental Drift used this step-by-step guide to ripping little kids and their parents off their hard earned dollars:

1. Introduce a couple of new characters to a once-vibrant-but-now-dying franchise (characters that add nothing to the story except incessant bodily-function jokes).

2. Mix in a few childhood adventure clichés, popular at the box office: pirates (Pirates! Band of Misfits), unlikely friendships (Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted), man-gulping whales (Finding Nemo), toothless old folks (Up), etc.

3. Throw in a few ‘relevant’ stars to attract a younger audience (Nikki Minaj and Jennifer Lopez in Ice Age: Continental Drift).

4. Add a lot of color and non-stop action so that the audience doesn’t notice the absence of quality content.

5. Do it all in 3D and make sure the plot is driven solely by the desire to throw as many objects as possible at the audience.

Maybe my disappointment in Ice Age: Continental Drift was so profound because its opening was promising, with our old friend Scrat the squirrel causing Pangaea to break up into the continents we have today (and yes, I love the historical inaccuracy bits). Luckily Scrat has not been cured of his acorn addiction, causing extremely entertaining havoc anywhere he goes as a result, with wonderful sequences where Scrat holds his breath to get the ever-elusive acorn under water and later enters acorn heaven only to do what he does best – but I will not spoil it for anyone.

The rest of the movie, without this catastrophe-engendering squirrel, is a cliché, despite gargantuan efforts to resuscitate it. Manny (voiced by Ray Romano), Diego (Denis Leary), and Sid (John Leguizamo) are still best buddies, despite the fact that Manny is now preoccupied with disciplining a somewhat rebellious teen daughter, Peaches (Keke Palmer), who gets more sympathy from her mother Ellie (Queen Latifah), while Sid has to take care of his quirky Granny (Wanda Sykes), leaving Diego as the only character without family (but not for long as Shira (Jennifer Lopez) becomes a love interest early on, as seen in the trailer).

Manny and Ellie are brutally separated in the chaos of the continental drift, so the unlikely friends have to travel on an iceberg through raging seas, encountering vicious pirates with Capt. Gutt (Peter Dinklage) as their lead, learning life lessons, and doing lots of things that look good in 3D, thanks to the hard work of Blue Sky studio and directors Steve Martino and Michael Thurmeier (he did animation for Fight Club, among other movies).

The excellent use of the medium here doesn’t compensate for lack of substance, however; it also doesn’t camouflage the fact that Ice Age: Continental Drift reads like a series of sketches or funny sitcom episodes, not a full-length cohesive feature, even with abrupt cuts and fade-outs suggesting a sketch format. The movie looks good but it isn’t a coffee table book you leaf through waiting for a dentist’s appointment, and even though I do understand that franchises are difficult to write to, there is really no excuse for such sloppiness and unapologetic profit-chasing.

There is not much to write about Ice Age: Continental Drift. It pales in comparison to many animated films we have seen lately, especially Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted, which also featured a bunch of animals one shouldn’t expect to ever co-exist let alone become friends (read Life of Pi by Yann Martel if you are wondering why) but was dynamic, furious, and funny. It is always disheartening to see what was once great entertainment degrade into money-grabbing tedium.

A few critics have bothered to look for a message in this fourth installment (Peer pressure? Uncontrollable obsession? Power of love? Importance of family?) but it’s more like: Sell as many tickets and run. The wonderful Simpsons short before Ice Age: Continental Drift is much more potent in both humor and message, while also being original and not repeating old tricks over and over again.

Verdict: Ice Age: Continental Drift is a cynical money-grabber. Besides the 3D, there is nothing to see there unless you are aged three to six. Blu-ray will do.

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About Sviatlana Piatakova