In the annuls of computer animated kids films about interspecies buddies with celebrity voices, the Ice Age series ranks somewhere in the middle: above the grating antics of the Madagascar crew, but well below the likes of Kung Fu Panda or the works of Disney Pixar. This trend of adequacy continues into the fourth film in Fox’s frozen franchise, in which Manny the Mammoth (Ray Romano), Sid the Sloth (John Leguizamo) and Diego the Sabre-tooth (Denis Leary) once again fight tooth, nail and trunk against the inevitability of their species’ extinction. Derivative of its predecessors and dramatically unambitious, Ice Age 4 is not going to remembered as one of cinemas classic cartoons. But if you’re a worn out parent looking for a ninety-four reprieve, the film contains more than enough high energy hi-jinks to keep distractible kiddies entertained.
The movie begins – as Ice Age sequels tend to do – with a global disaster that throws the lives of our heroes into disarray. Last time, you may recall, it was dinosaurs; now, it the shifting of the tectonic plates, a rift that separates Manny, Sid & Diego, as well as Sid’s batty old grandma, named Granny (Wanda Sykes; TVs The New Adventures of Old Christine), from the rest of their herd, including Manny’s wife Ellie (Queen Latifah; The Dilemma) and their adolescent daughter Peaches (Keke Palmer; Nickelodeon’s True Jackson VP). Swept away on a piece of ice, our prehistoric pals are forced to contend with storms, sirens and the machinations of an evil, swashbuckling ape named Gut (Peter Dinklage; TVs Game of Thrones), who sails the sea on a pirate-ship shaped iceberg manned by a crew that includes a rabbit named Squint (Aziz Ansari; 30 Minutes or Less), a seal named Flynn (Nick Frost; Attack the Block), a kangaroo named Raz (Rebel Wilson; Bridesmaids) and an alluring sabre-tooth named Shira (Jennifer Lopez; The Back-Up Plan).
I’ve never quite understood why studios bother wasting money on stars to voice the characters in their kid’s films; surely, a five year old can’t tell Nicki Minaj (as one of the cool Mammoth’s) from your average sassy African American diva any more than…well, than I can. Still, even if the star-power is lost on them, there‘s plenty of other things in Ice Age: Continental Drift that pre-schoolers will be able to enjoy. Goofy looking characters abound, as does slapstick, psychics-defying action that sees mammals sliding across the ice and flying through the air. It’s silly, but I think that’s what the paediatrician ordered.
For grownups, there is less to latch on to. The plot is utterly predictable, as are the perfunctory, bite-sized moral lessons about friend, family and sticking together, which the trio of screenwriters deliver the about the same finesse as one of Sid’s bowl movements. Faced with this dearth of dimension (and I’m not talking about the eye-straining, price-jacking 3D which should be avoided as always), you may find your mind wandering in the breaks between the action, and will perhaps become preoccupied (as I did) with questions such as “why, with the exception Ray Romano, are all Mammoths voiced by black actors?”, or “what kind of unholy progeny would be produced if Louise the Molehog (Josh Gad; The Rocker) ever acted on his romantic feelings for Peaches the Woolly Mammoth?” Or, most perplexing of all, “why would a film produced by a subsidiary of News Corp, whose “journalists” accused The Muppets, Cars 2 and The Lorax of being left-wing propaganda, make the dramatic catalyst of their kids movie an obvious allegory for climate change?”
Still, with such a frantic pace, you probably won’t be bored. As with the previous films, there is a manic comedic energy to Ice Age 4 that is at least somewhat entertaining. The best parts, unsurprisingly, are the two-to-three minute interludes that focus on the Loony Tunes style adventures of the bug-eyed squirrel Scrat, whose endless pursuit of a beloved acorn seems doomed to end in disaster. The other big highlight is the four minute, dialogue free The Simpsons short that precedes the feature, one that sees Maggie go head to head with her arch-nemesis, Gerald the mono-browed baby. Entitled The Longest Day Care, it’s far and away the freshest thing that that tired Fox franchise has produced in over a decade. Continental Drift, on the other hand, really is just more of the same. But hey, kids like familiarity. And parents like a break.