The “Ice Age” movies are about extinct species, and the frenetic fourth installment provides evidence that this franchise should at least be on the endangered list. Sequels tend to get made first because the last installment made money and second because the audiences love the characters and want to see more of them. After this, they may have had enough.
This time around, the ever-growing cast of animated characters is beset by the continental drift, when giant land masses broke apart and formed the continents. This event is blamed on Skrat, the prehistoric rodent, as always obsessively pursuing an elusive acorn. This prologue, which pays no more attention to science than previous installments, which have blithely featured dinosaurs roaming the world with warm-blooded creatures that didn’t exist until millions of years later. Nonetheless, this is some of the most inventive stuff in the movie, which is constantly trying, and generally failing, to keep up.
What passes for a plot is could have been pulled at random from a jar of clichés. Mammoth Manny (voiced by Ray Romano), along with Sid the Sloth (voiced by John Leguizamo) and Diego the sabre-toothed tiger (voiced by Denis Leary), is suddenly separated from his family by the separation of land masses after a fight with his daughter Peaches (voiced by Keke Palmer). The band of refugees then runs afoul of pirates and sea sirens as they try to make their way home home. There isn’t an original thought involved.
Not that there isn’t plenty of action. There is. There’s slipping, sliding and falling across an endless landscape of jagged rocks and ice floes. But there’s surprisingly little exuberance for all the antic chaos. It’s too damn calculated, like scheduling a riot.
What we’re left with a movie in need of Ritalin. The story is wholly manufactured—it’s all about friends sticking together and the problems of teenagers wanting to impress their friends while enduring tensions with their parents (yes, mammoths have these issues, too) but it’s anything but fresh. “Continental Drift” has no raison d’être other than to be a sequel. That’s corporate thinking, not creative thinking, and even kids are going to be able to tell the difference.
Kids, however, will be largely oblivious to the ridiculous number of big name voice performance cameos. Peter Dinklage as the ape pirate captain who seems to be in the wrong movie to begin with? Why? Did someone honestly there were a four year old “Game of Thrones” fan who was going to shout “That’s Dinklage?” How about Joyce Behar? Or Aziz Ansari? Rebel Wilson? Even Jennifer Lopez, as a saber-toothed tiger love interest for Denis Leary’s Diego, is likely to be lost on the younger viewers. Of the new characters, only Wanda Sykes, voicing Sid’s granny, actually contributes any genuine humor.
Ironically, the sequel is preceded by an animated 3D short, “The Longest Daycare,” featuring TV’s Maggie Simpson. A funny, delightful little piece with no dialogue, “The Longest Daycare” is far better than the overly talky feature it opens for. Crass, calculated and completely cookie cutter, “Ice Age: Continental Drift” is evidence of a franchise left behind by evolution.