What Else is Left? Extinction?
Late 2010 saw the theatrical release of “Scrat’s Continental Crack-Up,” an animated short in which Scrat, the prehistoric squirrel from the “Ice Age” films, instigated instantaneous continental drift when attempting to bury his long sought-after acorn in an ice shelf. I saw this short many times, never once thinking that it would end up being the opening scene of “Ice Age: Continental Drift,” the fourth chapter of the series. It’s as silly as silly can be, Scrat literally falling straight down to the Earth’s core and, by the simple act of trying to chase down his acorn, spins the core to such a velocity that it makes the land masses on the surface crack into the continental shapes we know today. When he’s flung to the surface like a furry rubber band, Scrat soars through the air before landing painfully on a tiny iceberg. And so begins a new series of acorn-related misadventures.
It’s funny that I would end up enjoying “Continental Drift,” especially after my rather indignant reaction to the previous “Ice Age” installment, “Dawn of the Dinosaurs.” Some readers wondered how I could possibly find fault with the idea that a dinosaur somehow survived extinction and lived in an underground cave; they tried to reason that it was just a cartoon and not meant to be taken too seriously. Perhaps they were right, but I knew how I felt at the time, and I know how I feel now, and the simple fact is I liked this new movie better than its predecessor. It’s by no means perfect, but as a family-friendly animated adventure, it gets the job done. It has plenty of laughs, lots of heart, a good cast, some great visuals, and even a few instances in which the 3D process stands out. They’re all gimmicky, but at least they’re noticeable.
Along with Scrat, Manny the wooly mammoth (voiced by Ray Romano), Sid the sloth (voiced by John Leguizamo), and Diego the saber-tooth tiger (voiced by Denis Leary) all return, as do Manny’s wife Ellie (voiced by Queen Latifah) and her possum brothers Crash and Eddie (voiced by Seann William Scott and Josh Peck). New to this film is a now teenage version of Manny and Ellie’s daughter, Peaches (voiced by Keke Palmer), who desperately wants a break from her father’s overprotective instincts, and Sid’s grandmother (voiced by Wanda Sykes), a feisty old woman who keeps calling out to a pet named Precious. Everyone assumes that Precious has either long since died or never existed to begin with. She’s unceremoniously dumped into Manny’s care by his family, who hasn’t seen him in years. They have getting rid of burdensome relatives down to a simple formula: Drop them off and run like hell.
The plot involves the crumbling continent separating Manny, Sid, Diego, and Granny from Ellie and Peaches. The first four float on an iceberg into the middle of the ocean, hoping they can somehow paddle their way back to the continent. After narrowly surviving a freak storm complete with a monstrous waterspout, they’re attacked by a pirate ship – or, more accurately, a pirate iceberg – captained by the cold-hearted Gutt (voiced by Peter Dinklage), a prehistoric ape creature with incredibly bad teeth. His first mate is a saber-tooth cat named Shira (voiced by Jennifer Lopez), whose status as a female counterpart to Diego should tell you just about everything you need to know. Manny and his friends will also have a brief encounter with sirens (which in their natural form look like the squat lovechildren of the Creature from the Black Lagoon) and a tribe of hyraxes (whose language sounds uncannily like a mix between Jawa and Ewok).
Ellie and Peaches, meanwhile, are busy herding the remaining animals towards a distant land bridge, for a continental shelf is rapidly moving in their direction, destroying everything in its path. During this time, Peaches attempts to work through her feelings of guilt, as the last conversation she had with her father was an argument. She also tries to impress Ethan, the wooly mammoth she has a crush on (voiced by Drake), by pretending to dump her best friend, a molehog named Louis, whom everyone has nicknamed Weiner (voiced by Josh Gad). This aspect of the plot is good-natured, but it’s also unquestionably the most familiar and predictable. No doubt Peaches will learn a lesson or two by the time the movie ends.
Having covered the major geographical and meteorological epochs of Earth’s history – the last ice age, the melting of the glaciers, and now continental drift (the latter proving that the filmmakers aren’t much interested in chronology) – I’m forced to wonder what avenues are left to travel for any potential “Ice Age” sequels. Surely no one would dare to depict the eventual demise of the wooly mammoth and the saber-tooth tiger. Then again, maybe someone actually would dare, as evidenced by a scene near the end of “Ice Age: Continental Drift” in which Peaches argues with Ethan and his posse: “If you geniuses are normal,” she yells, “this species is gonna end up extinct!” Given the fact that it really did end up extinct, I honestly don’t know how funny that line is. Strange, how death on such a massive scale can dampen one’s sense of humor.