There are seven not-so-magnificent reasons why I wanted to give “Ice Age: Continental Drift” a lousy rating:
1) The plot is right out of Saturday morning cartoons.
2) The screenwriters just HAD to add an annoying, feisty old granny character.
3) It’s the most far-fetched, anachronistic plot in the four-film series.
4) You’ll recognize “borrowings” from other animated films.
5) The Scrat prehistoric squirrel sequences feel like short films spliced into this feature rather than essential scenes.
6) At some point the villain actually sings a SONG, which stands out like an opposable thumb.
7) And darn it, I’ll confess that I’m not exactly predisposed to like “franchise” films, which by their very nature seem more concerned either with pandering to audience tastes or trying to make a buck, as opposed to trying to make an honest movie.
There’s only one reason why I won’t give it a really bad review: I actually enjoyed it.
For all its flaws, the fourth full-length feature (fifth, if you count “Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas”) moves along at a brisk pace, it’s full of action and humor, and the animation is terrific—interesting, too, as the filmmakers try to dramatize in a single sequence changes to the earth that we’re told took millions of years. Call me prehistorically old-fashioned, but I think that any film that stays reasonably clear of gross-out humor and earns a PG rating and is still funny and entertaining ought to get a reasonably good review. It’s a family film through and through.
In fact, the film begins with overprotective mammoth father Manny (Ray Romano) dealing with what every parent of today’s precocious junior-high age girls has to deal with: her interest in boys and her desire for freedom. Another family dynamic trope is invoked when young Peaches (Keke Palmer) rebels and wants to run with the “in” crowd, and when her father embarrasses her in front of the group, she says, “I wish you weren’t [my dad].” Then, all sorts of Ice Age heck breaks loose, with cracks (started by Scrat) causing land masses to break off into continents, mountain ranges to rise up from the sea, and a chaos separating Manny from his wife (Queen Latifah, as Ellie) and daughter.
That’s the emotional core of the film and the driving force behind the main narrative. After Manny, his Sabre-toothed cat friend Diego (Denis Leary), slot Sid (John Leguizamo), and Sid’s annoying granny (Wanda Sykes) become separated from the rest and end up on an ice floe, Manny vows to return to his family. Diego has none, and Sid’s family had just dumped Granny on him and beat it, just as they dumped him years ago, so neither of them has the same motivation to return home—except, of course, to continue living.
The side plots aren’t nearly as interesting. Back at the home glacier, Peaches is learning the clichéd (but still true) lesson about not abandoning your real friend(s) to join an “in crowd” that’s not as cool as you originally thought. Meanwhile, Diego finds a love-hate interest in baboon pirate Captain Gutt’s (Peter Dinklage) first mate, Shira (Jennifer Lopez), a saber-toothed tiger who’s torn inside.
But by the time you add those mesmerizing visuals, and when you begin to appreciate the humor that derives from many of the characters, “Ice Age: Continental Drift” floats to the surface as a film that’s worth adding to the family video library, despite all its flaws.
“Ice Age: Continental Drift” looks gorgeous in 1080p, with an AVC/MPEG-4 transfer that’s flawless and colors that pop, edges that suggest 3-dimensionality even without the glasses, and a level of detail that brings the “wow” factor into almost every sequence. I think a lot of people will cut this film some slack, just based on how good it looks on Blu-ray. “Continental Drift” is presented in 2.40:1 widescreen.
The audio is also super, with an English DTS-HD MA 7.1 cracking fissures in your viewing space and immersing you in the action. What’s more, the dialogue is clear and you don’t have to adjust the volume to hear it, as the gap between the spoken word and the thundering herd isn’t so great as to require a lot of toggling back and forth. Additional audio options are in Spanish and French Dolby Digital 5.1, with subtitles in English SDH and Spanish.
This combo pack offers a DVD, Digital Copy, and UV Digital Copy, plus a chance to win 10 million coins. That’s not bad in itself, but then there are also two making-of features that are worth watching: “Through a Pirate’s Spyglass” (26 min.), which showcases the voice talents, especially relating to the pirate crew, and “Whale of a Tale: Drifts, Rifts, Beasties and Myths” (24 min.), which zeroes in on the research that the animators did in order to design all of the prehistoric creatures. And if you didn’t pick up on a siren reference that slaps you in the face, there’s a brief riff on the influence of The Odyssey.
But some shorter features are also worth a look. “Scrat Got Your Tongue?” (7 min.) talks about how the Ice Age squirrel came to be, while “The Scratist” (2 min.) is a black-and-white montage of Scrat highlights made to look like vintage classics. Then there’s “Granny and the Stink of the Sloths” (9 min.) that explains how those characters evolved, and if you access BD-Live (remember that?) you’ll get a three-minute clip on how the art design was conceived.
Rounding out the bonus features: a Sign Along (with two signers), roughly two minutes of deleted scenes (storyboards, actually), a “how we got here” summary clip of the “Ice Age” movies to date, 11 minutes of sing-alongs and music videos, and the theatrical trailer.
The first “Ice Age” is still the best, but as fabricated and Saturday morning as this installment is, it’s still an accomplished bit of animated filmmaking.