Movies like Ice Age: Continental Drift perform a valuable public service, in that they teach the children of the world all the clichés that they will rapidly come to despise over the course of the following decades: the parents who just don’t “get” their kids, try to stop them from being themselves and learn a valuable lesson about letting go; the children who resent their overprotective parents, hang out with the “cool” crowd and learn a valuable lesson about listening to their parents; and thoroughly wasting the talents of Denis Leary, Peter Dinklage, Queen Latifah, the list goes on. As children wade uncertainly into their formative years, they will come to despise these and all other aspects of a film like Ice Age: Continental Drift, but without being forced to see them they will never become immune. This is the cinematic equivalent of exposing your kids to chickenpox.
The original Ice Age, released way back in 2002, was an decent but unremarkable attempt to update the classic John Ford western 3 Godfathers into a family friendly CGI tale with talking animals replacing the titular outlaws as they persevered against their various natures to protect and transport a baby, not to mention a human one, across the perilous wastes to safety. The animation style was strikingly jagged for an otherwise cuddly tale, the threats seemed plausible and the emotional storylines seemed suitably earned. I liked it. I missed the following sequels – Ice Age: The Meltdown and Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (still a confusing concept) – but I’m curious to learn if the series’ descent into conventionality was incremental or happened all at once, like the separation of Pangaea at the start of Continental Drift.
The lovable rat-like creature Scrat accidentally falls down to the center of the earth and, in yet another attempt to retrieve his beloved acorn, unintentionally jumpstarts the division of the world’s singular landmass into seven continents (or six, depending on your college professor). It happens all at once, wrecking the planet like Roland Emmerich’s 2012 and yet somehow seeming a bit more plausible. The only downside to this planetary catastrophe (apparently) is that it divides the family of Manny the Mastodon, played by Ray Romano, moments after his daughter, Keke Palmer, announces that she wishes he wasn’t her father due to a ham-handed dispute about hanging out (or since it’s the Ice Age, “chilling”) with the disreputable “cool” kids.
Stranded on an iceberg with his pals Diego the saber-toothed tiger (Denis Leary), Sid the Sloth (John Leguizamo) and Sid’s “wacky” mother (Wanda Sykes, doing what she does best… or rather, most often), Manny finds himself at odds with a pirate monkey – I choose to believe it’s an “Invader Zim” reference – played by the great Peter Dinklage. What this has to do with the film’s overarching themes of wholesome family values is never explored, leaving most of the movie feeling like a pointless digression from the first act and final three minutes. Along the way, Diego also gets his first love interest in the franchise, another saber-toothed tiger played by Jennifer Lopez (obviously). She goes through an expedited version of Diego’s character arc from the first Ice Age, making the subplot both predictable and unnecessary.
It was suggested to me after the screening of Ice Age: Continental Drift that such storylines appeal to young audiences, since they speak to the demographic’s limited sphere of personal experience. Disapproving parents, cool kids and (I suppose) desperate pandering from powerful corporations are admittedly a common occurrence in the life of many modern children, so can certainly see the logic in that. Lots of family motion pictures toy with similar issues, but films like The Jungle Book, Bambi and Pinocchio somehow managed to find an interesting way to do it. Putting your kids through the Ice Age: Continental Drift experience seems like a fairly harmless waste of time if you think about it. But then again, why should anyone start thinking about it now?
The film is, at least, preceded by a smart and hilarious short film centered on Maggie from “The Simpsons,” which is easily the best thing associated with the comedy series in many, many years. Is it worth the price of admission? Not hardly, but at least it’s a worthy consolation prize.
Photo Credits: Blue Sky Studios