‘Ice Age’ loses its cool
All at sea: “Ice Age: Continental Drift.”
Updated: August 13, 2012 3:44PM
I once heard a deejay, in a moment of inspiration, say that the name of the latest album by The Eagles was entitled “Give Us Money and We’ll Go Away.” That’s not a bad name for any half-hearted, commercially driven artistic effort and it certainly applies to this fourth entry in the apparently creatively bankrupt “Ice Age” franchise.
Ten years ago, the original “Ice Age” was a refreshingly inventive dazzler, and subsequent installments have been redeemed by occasional flashes of brilliance, but in “Ice Age: Continental Drift,” even those high points are less like flashes than dull glimmers and the whole business smacks of desperation — and greed.
It’s not terrible, mind, just tedious. Easy-to-please kids may find it satisfactory, but parents are advised to drop them off at the theater and run.
So far in the series, our prehistoric heroes Manny the mammoth (Ray Romano), Diego the saber tooth (Dennis Leary) and Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo), have been menaced by the Big Cold Snap, floods generated by its subsequent meltdown and rampaging (not to mention anachronistic) dinosaurs.
There’s an environmental peril this time, as well, as the mega-continent Pangea splits apart (thanks to some antics at the Earth’s core by acorn-addicted Scrat the squirrel), separating Manny from his wife and teenage daughter Peaches (Keke Palmer) and casting him, and his pals, along with Sid’s dotty old granny (Wanda Sykes) adrift on a tiny ice floe.
That’s just for starters, though. Just as the last “Ice Age” movie whistled up a bunch of kid-friendly dinosaurs, this one conjures pirates (what’s next, space aliens?) led by the really mean, avast-ye-swabs orangutan Captain Gutt (Peter Dinklage), the series’ first villain.
Now, it doesn’t do to be a stickler for credibility in situations like this, but there’s something about the stark contrivance of this mean-spirited ape sailing the seven seas on an iceberg manned by a dimwitted seal, a psychotically violent bunny and an attractive saber tooth love-interest for Diego (Jennifer Lopez) that makes the whole misadventure seem pointless.
Worse, it shifts the creative focus from attempting to survive in a hostile environment (which occasionally resulted in imaginative flights of fancy in the earlier films) to standard-issue character conflict as Gutt attempts to shanghai Manny and his pals, then pursues them relentlessly for revenge when they scuttle his ice ship while escaping, eventually trying to make Manny pay by threatening his family.
Friendship and family have always been the emotional motivators in this series, but they’ve never been front and center the way they are in “Continental Drift,” which belabors a rift between over-protective dad Manny and his daughter, and focuses almost exclusively on his determination to get back home.
In previous entries, the latent sentimentality was effectively balanced by comedy, and lots of it, provided by sweet, naïve, IQ-challenged Sid and occasional cutaways to Scrat’s eternally frustrated pursuit of that always just-out-of-reach acorn. This time, though, Sid’s screen time has been largely usurped by the predictable, crazy-old-lady hijinks of his grandmother and Scrat’s monomania — which had seemed to provide inexhaustible comic riffage on thwarted desire but has finally begun to seem predictable and repetitive.
Suddenly, the prehistoric era is a lot less hysterical than it used to be.