If you buy a ticket to see Ice Age: Continental Drift, you will see a lovely, clever, surprisingly moving animated film that ends in deeply satisfying fashion. Unfortunately, that movie isn’t the fourth installment of the Ice Age series but rather the four-minute short film that precedes it. Featuring The Simpsons’ characters, The Longest Daycare is a wordless vignette in which Marge drops Maggie off at the Ayn Rand School for Tots. While I would have preferred more material on what kind of hell such an institution might be like, I was still charmed by little Maggie’s attempts to protect a butterfly from being smooshed by a vicious infant with a hammer. As for the feature, it’s nowhere near that good.
Unpropitiously, the movie begins with a bit recycled from the last film, in which Scrat the squirrel’s pursuit of an acorn causes the Earth’s landmass to break apart into continents. The break-up strands Manny the mammoth (voiced by Ray Romano) on a drifting ice cap, separating him from his wife Ellie (voiced by Queen Latifah) and rebellious teenage daughter Peaches (voiced by Keke Palmer). Stranded with him, Manny’s old friends Sid the sloth (voiced by John Leguizamo) and Diego the saber-toothed tiger (voiced by Denis Leary) must help him reunite with his family.
My God, has it really been 10 years since the first Ice Age movie came out? Domestic drama has been a constant presence in this series from the beginning, and it still has yet to inspire any sort of interesting kinks, much less made us emotionally invested in Manny, Diego, and Sid, either as individuals or as a quasi-family unit. The previous movies’ trips to that well have drained all the suspense and urgency out of Manny’s attempts to find his loved ones again in this movie. The plot with the three heroes being menaced by a slavedriver of an orangutan pirate captain (voiced by Peter Dinklage) only yields the revelation that Dinklage can sing a bit. We don’t even get that much from the subplot in which Diego tries to woo a female saber-tooth (voiced by Jennifer Lopez) who is also the pirate’s first mate over to the good side.
Improbably, this movie has rounded up a ridiculous amount of voice talent: Aziz Ansari, Nick Frost, and Rebel Wilson as members of the pirate crew; Josh Gad as a bashful groundhog who’s Peaches’ best friend; Drake, Nicki Minaj, and Heather Morris as cool-kid mammoths who pressure Peaches into ditching her uncool buddy; Wanda Sykes as Sid’s dotty grandmother. Whether they couldn’t make more of the script or whether the material was beyond saving, this newest Ice Age highlights a fallow time for PG-rated entertainment options for the kids. I’m sure Hollywood will come out with something better in short order, but right now, parents are better off staying home with their small children and watching TV.
Ice Age: Continental Drift
Voices by Ray Romano, Denis Leary, and John Leguizamo. Directed by Steve Martino and Mike Thurmeier. Written by Michael Berg and Jason Fuchs. Rated PG.