Over the course of 10 years and four theatrical installments, the Ice Age films seem to have evolved to the point where they’re commenting on their own existence. At one point in Ice Age: Continental Drift, a character asks twin possums Eddie and Crash (voiced by Josh Peck and Seann William Scott) why they persist in cavorting like kids high on sugar while the very ground is being snatched from beneath their feet. After a contemplative pause, one twin replies: “It’s because we’re very, very stupid.”
The problem with this animated family flick from Fox’s Blue Sky Studios isn’t that it’s stupid, per se. Kids appreciate random silliness, and so do adults, on occasion. Its creative treatment of the geological record isn’t a problem, either — more of a given. In another meta moment, a character reminds us that the talking critters’ previous adventure involved fighting dinosaurs in the ice age. “It didn’t make much sense,” he notes, “but it sure was fun.”
No, you don’t expect kids to learn about the actual ace age from a film in which peer-pressuring woolly mammoth teens voiced by Drake and Nicki Minaj call things “sick.” All that is par for the course and will provide, at the most, a teachable moment about Hollywood’s servile trend following.
The real problem with Continental Drift is that the lines already quoted are among its best. Fans of cute animals doing cute-animal stuff may be satisfied by this three-quel, but neither screenwriters Michael Berg and Jason Fuchs nor directors Steve Martino and Michael Thurmeier appear to have brought anything fresh to the endeavor.
The best part of the plot is that it attributes the breakup of Paleozoic supercontinent Pangaea to a squirrel chasing an acorn. In a wordless opening sequence reminiscent of “Looney Tunes,” furry-tailed Scrat (Chris Wedge) plummets to the Earth’s core and uses it as a treadmill, which naturally occasions a global cataclysm.
With alarming speed, the shifting tectonic plates separate a woolly mammoth family (Ray Romano, Queen Latifah and Keke Palmer) and set various characters adrift on the high seas. The all-too-inevitable result is a pirate adventure, with Peter Dinklage ably voicing the evil primate Captain Gutt. (If he’s the direct ancestor of the human race ... that explains a lot.)
Amid the manic funny business, one thing stays consistent: It’s just not that funny. The laughs rely heavily on see-it-coming-a-mile-away irony, with sloth Sid (John Leguizamo) a tiresome repeat offender in the eat-your-words department. (If he proclaims that everything is smooth sailing, expect a typhoon to arrive in milliseconds.)
Two new and mildly amusing additions to the crowded cast are Sid’s sassy, hygiene-impaired Granny (Wanda Sykes) and a tribe of gerbil-like rodents (hyraxes, to be exact) that reenact Braveheart at a crucial moment. With the latter, Fox seems to be making a shameless play for the hearts of kids who went gaga for the horde of peeping minions in Despicable Me.
Judging by the film’s $47 million take last weekend, the tactic worked. Children who haven’t aged out of the franchise will probably find something to enjoy here. At the very least, they’ll be introduced to the comic stylings of Nick Frost, Alan Tudyk and Aziz Ansari, who voice tiny roles. But, for anyone over 10, the main attraction of this Ice Age is the icy air blowing inside the theater.
* Running time: 94 min.
* Rated: PG