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Ice Age: Continental Drift

July 17, 2012
Ice Age: Continental Drift

Lest we think that Pixar and Dreamworks are the only real players in the computer-animation business, Blue Sky pokes its head up every so often. Their flagship property lumbers on in Ice Age: Continental Drift. We’re now into the third — wait, no, fourth — installment of the series and it’s all starting to run together. Don’t most animated properties, by the time they get this top-heavy with core cast and this bereft of new ideas, have the decency to trade in their top-shelf vocal talent and slink off to the realm of direct-to-video releases? No, Ice Age is going the other way entirely, doubling down on the big-name voice actors and the stereography even as it proves it has nothing to actually say.

The ever-swelling gang is back, starting with Manny the mammoth (Ray Romano), Diego the saber-toothed tiger (Denis Leary), and Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo). Then there’s Ellie (Queen Latifah), the wife Manny picked up in the second installment, and Peaches (Keke Palmer), the daughter they picked up in the third episode, who’s now growing into her mildly rebellious adolescent phase and sneaking off with Louis the nebbishy “molehog” (Josh Gad) to see the cool mammoth kids (Drake, Nicki Minaj, and Heather Morris). And, because this wasn’t enough, Sid’s parents (Joy Behar and Alan Tudyk) drop his senile grandmother (Wanda Sykes) into his lap before speeding off. Yes, they actually brought in Joy Behar and Alan Tudyk as throwaway characters.

The gang all together, now their home continent starts to break up. Because tectonic motions take place on the scale of days rather than centuries. Manny, Diego, and Sid are all separated onto an iceberg that calves off while the rest hightail it for the land bridge — a naturally-occurring cantilever — with no particular indication why that’s supposed to be safe from the wall of rock advancing like the walls of the garbage compactor in Star Wars. The crew on the iceberg have their own odyssey before they can return home, and with somewhat less implacable dangers: a pirate iceberg “ship” led by the simian captain Gutt (Peter Dinklage), along with his first mate Shira (Jennifer Lopez) — another saber-toothed tiger, so you know where that’s headed — and a motley crew of other mammals (Aziz Ansari, Nick Frost, Kunal Nayyar, Rebel Wilson, and more).

There is nothing here that you can’t see coming a mile away unless — as I admit applies to much of the target audience — you’ve never seen it before. It’s all so much rote recitation of prepackaged plots, slapped together with little concern for storytelling beyond getting things where they need to be when they need to be there, and it gets boring amazingly quickly. Even the standard slapstick sideline doesn’t help; most of Scrat’s latest adventures have been used as shorts in advance of other 20th Century Fox movies for years.

The most frustrating thing is that the writers — the returning Michael Berg, backed up by Jason Fuchs and Simpsons and Critic alum Mike Reiss — are a lot smarter than this, and they go out of their way to prove it. The story is strewn with Odyssean references, from a sea voyage to return home blown off-course by a storm to paralytic “lotus berries” to sirens tempting the ship towards a watery grave. This isn’t just bad writing, it’s writing that the writers know is beneath them, targeted to an audience they evidently don’t think deserves any better.

And I’m sure the obvious response is the cynical brush-off: “it’s only a kids’ movie”; that doesn’t hold any water. Besides the fact that there are plenty of wonderfully-written stories intended for children, it’s when we’re writing for an audience that is learning about the world for the first time that we should be the most careful with what we tell them. It may not be a big deal when it comes to hoary clichés about peer pressure and choosing a healthy social group — a double serving of that here — but when you start throwing in the idea that a woman can be imprisoned until she learns what’s good for her, or that persistence in the face of adversity can get you out of the “friend-zone”, it starts to become another story. These ideas don’t come from nowhere, and even if they are endemic tropes that doesn’t mean we have to encourage them even more.

The writers know it’s crap, and they’re betting you won’t care enough not to feed it to your kids. Demand better.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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