By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Here it is, a decade later, and the Ice Age continues.
In this nice age of animation, Ice Age: Continental Drift is the fourth entry in the animated adventure series about our largely fictional prehistoric past, yet another glacial epic aimed at a slightly younger audience than many of its animated-series brethren, offering ice cream for the eyes and toppings for the ears.
It follows the bright and engaging Ice Age (2002), the thoroughly charming Ice Age: The Meltdown (2006), and the lackluster Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (2009) as it trots out its mammoths and tigers and sloths, oh my!
And sequel number three represents a step back in the right direction.
Ray Romano, Denis Leary, and John Leguizamo are back as the lead voices of the mammalian chums (woolly mammoth Manny, sabre-tooth tiger Diego, and upbeat sloth Sid, respectively), and they’re joined by Queen Latifah as Manny’s mate, Ellie; Jennifer Lopez as Shira, a white-tiger love interest for Diego; Keke Palmer as Peaches, Manny’s rebellious teenage daughter; Wanda Sykes as Sid’s toothless, curmudgeonly grandmother, Granny; and Peter Dinklage, contributing the film’s most inspired voiceover work, as the villainous orangutan, Captain Gutt.
And, of course, Scrat the peripheral squirrel returns, incorporated into the plot for this outing, rather than just operating in what has essentially been his own set of parallel movies. He’s still hunting for that elusive, prized acorn, but here in a way that causes the land masses to shift, the continents to split, the ice to separate, and the narrative to kick in.
In this watery-adventure sequel, Manny and his friends get separated from Manny’s loved ones when their continent is set adrift, and they must use an iceberg as a ship as they encounter sea creatures and battle pirates.
Yep, pirates — which makes about as much historical sense as the dinosaurs who roamed through the previous sequel.
Directors Steve Martino and Mike Thurmeier combine characteristic character charm, visual wit, and brisk pacing to tell their basic story. But reprise rather than surprise is the modus operandi: it’s difficult for this fourth outing to convey any feeling of freshness or originality.
Rather, it is careful and adept execution that keeps this one afloat and helps it to deliver the goods.
The timid but pleasing screenplay by Michael Berg and Jason Fuchs employs the same basic theme as its three predecessors — the importance of family. The scenarists provide plenty of energetic banter, but they also seem afraid to tweak the formula, so they introduce a slew of new characters who waltz through and whom we hardly get to know rather than further developing or evolving the central characters.
The screenplay is therefore stretched pretty thin, but it still manages to speak to the little ones (note the reliance on broad slapstick to energize the primary target audience) even if it is willing to leave some of the chaperones out in the cold.
But the vivid, high-tech animation looks great from first frame to last, with arresting creatures, inventive design, and detailed settings throughout.
On the Ice Age meter, this one ranks below the first two installments but represents substantial improvement over the previous outing: this is a sequel that’s more than the equal of its immediate prequel.
So we’ll thaw 2½ stars out of 4. With the modestly ambitious but kid-friendly Ice Age: Continental Drift passably entertaining despite remaining in shallow waters, perhaps it’s still not time to put the franchise on ice. If you get my drift.