Movie Review – Ice Age: Continental Drift
– Summary –
Directors : Steve Martino & Mike Thurmeier
Year Of Release : 2012
Principal Cast : Voices of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Queen Latifah, Dennis Leary, Sean William Scott, Josh Peck, Chris Wedge, Keke Palmer, Jennifer Lopez, Peter Dinklage, Wanda Sykes, Josh Gad, Nicki Minaj, Drake, Aziz Ansari, Rebel Wilson, Nick Frost, Kunal Nayyar, Alain Chabat, Alan Tudyk.
Approx Running Time : 88 Minutes
Synopsis: After Scrat causes the breakup of Pangea, Manny and his family are separated by vast oceans. While attempting to return to land and reunite with the family, Manny, Sid and Diego, along with Sid’s grandmother, fend off the evil advances of pirate orangutan Gutt.
What we think : Sporadically amusing Ice Age sequel is nice on the eyes and ears, but not that interesting for the brain. The Hollywood theory of diminishing sequels is once again in full effect, as the filmmakers decide to throw more characters than ever before at the audience in the hope of garnering some cheap laughs, providing weak moral lessons and wringing every last drop of blood from what was a particularly one-note franchise to begin with. Continental Drift does just that at times: drift along aimlessly, although some minor characters provide a few nice chuckles amongst the animated mediocrity.
Now in it’s fourth installment, the Ice Age franchise has started to suffer the affliction of many a sequel borne of commercial greed – each successive film in a franchise dilutes the ideas and creative inspiration from the original further and further, until the time you get to the fourth or fifth attempt to cash in again, when things are so far removed from the original it’s barely linked to. Ice Age: Continental Drift is one such film, a film where the characters barely seem to behave as they did in the original film (Manny especially), while the massive cast roster simply can’t withstand the bulging demands of the wafer-thin story; at times, this movie seems in danger of collapsing in on itself much like the continents of the title do to the characters. The core trio or characters, Manny, Sid and Diego, become actionless protagonists in that they’re there for things to happen to, rather than catalysts for the story itself. Approaching the story with an ADHD sense of “smorgasbordism”, Ice Age 4 might amuse the tiny tots watching, but adults and older children will be quickly bored by the white noise that is this movie. It’s too much, with too little, and far far too late. So how does a franchise which began with the pee-inducing Scrat and his hunt for an acorn, setting off laughs across the globe, come down so low? What has happened to cause these once-great characters to lose their charm and soul? Scripting? Direction? Or.. gasp… over-saturation?
Scrat (voiced by Chris Wedge) is once again looking for a spot to keep his acorn. After accidentally falling into the center of the Earth and kick-starting tectonic movement, causing super-continent Pangea to separate, Scrat inadvertently sets in motion a chain of events which will test the tenacity of the Ice Age characters. Manny (Ray Romano), now living with his wife Ellie (Queen Latifah) and teenage daughter Peaches (Keke Palmer), is beginning to feel the anxiety of a rebellious daughter who is trying to fit in with her peers. Peaches has a crush on local teen mammoth Ethan (Drake), while her only real friend is Louis (Josh Gad), a molehog who has a crush on Peaches herself. When the effects of Scrat’s continental apocalypse appear on their home turf, Manny, Sid (John Leguizamo) and Diego (Dennis Leary) are separated from Ellie and Peaches on an iceberg, which floats them away from land. Sid, meanwhile, has to contend with the sudden arrival of his family, who proceed to dump “Granny” (Wanda Sykes) on his doorstep before scarpering again. Granny is somewhat crazy, apparently. As they float away on their iceberg, they are captured by local pirate Captain Gutt, a mean orangutan leading a band of rapscallions to plunder the open oceans. Gutt’s first mate, a female sabre named Shira (Jennifer Lopez) sees Diego as a bit of a wimp, thanks to his affiliation with Manny and the rest of the herd. Ellie and Peaches lead the remaining animals on the gradually diminishing land mass towards the nearest land bridge,which is a way to escape certain doom as the advancing continental mass threatens to annihilate them all.
I remember wistfully the time I saw the original Ice Age in cinemas. Scrat’s opening scene, where he’s trying to find a place to bury his acorn, almost (almost) made me pee my pants with laughter. The rest of the film didn’t quite manage to live up to this hysterical opening salvo, but it was more than passable entertainment considering it was up against the giant Pixar studio. Ice Age: The Meltdown quickly followed, which turned out to be a less than stellar sequel story-wise, but it made enough money to give us a third film, Dawn Of The Dinosaurs. Dawn wasn’t bad at all, actually, and improved on The Meltdown considerably. But now we’re at number 4 in the series, and honestly, there’s only so many Scrat laughs to be had these days. With the increasing cast roster threatening to overwhelm the franchise’s heart and soul, Continental Drift had a herculean task ahead in trying to reclaim much of the goodwill from the previous three films worth of backstory, throw in a bunch of new characters, and expect audiences to enjoy it just as much. Did it succeed? No.
Continental Drift has a number of large problems, the most glaring of which is the treatment of the three core characters: Manny, Sid and Diego. In the first film, the trio were a team (herd) working together, and the filmmakers gave them well rounded, complex personality types for the audience to connect to. Mannys gruff, no-fools-gladly approach was at odds with Sid’s imbecilic ravings, while Diego’s hunter-prey drive added grist to the mill that worked really well within the narrative. By now, however, the filmmakers expect us to have an appreciation for the trio, and so give us little by way of development of their characters this time out. Manny, now a married mammoth with a teenage daughter mammoth to contend with, has lost a lot of his original bite (so to speak), while Sid has become even more obnoxiously goofy than ever before (although he does raise the occasional chuckle, thankfully) and Diego… well, it seems nobody quite knows what to do with Diego, so he remains a blank slate of a character on which no emotional resonance hangs. Diego’s lack of development, at least initially, causes concern, until he meets up with a female sabre-tooth tiger and (as you’d expect) falls for her. It’s like the writers have figured that since we already know these characters, they don’t need to spend much time on them in the film, instead giving a lot of their attention to the plethora of secondary and tertiary characters instead. Such a shame.
The second most glaring issue with Continental Drift is the sheer number of characters we must endure to get through the story. There’s a slew of pirate-themed creations, from the admittedly cool Captain Gutt and his unnatural brute strength (at one point this orangutan manages to split open a glacier? Who figured that could happen?) to Nick Frost’s Sid-like elephant seal (seriously, there’s about three imbecile characters in this film who all perform the same comedy-relief function!) to Big Bang Theory’s Kunal Nayyar as a weird badger who performs the duty of being the ship’s flag. Then there’s the usual gang of prehistoric creatures from whom Manny and his friends are separated – a trio of teen-speak mammoths who find Peaches a bit freaky for hanging out with Louis, as well as those who go on the forced march to the land-bridge, most of whom are reoccurring characters from the previous films. Whereas the cast roster for the first Ice Age could have fit snugly on one hand, this film bulges, buckles and lists dangerously close to the Overkill Precipice with all manner of prehistoric and non-prehistoric creatures on its books. In trying to give all these creatures a story and an arc to work with, the film would have had to run some three or four hours just to fit them all in; blessedly, we’re only given 88 minutes (including credits) for Ice Age 4 to do its thing, meaning a grand total of none of these creations get the attention they deserve. Oh sure, Captain Gutt and Manny run the closest to being the leading roles in this one, but it’s tokenism at its worst, if you ask me (which you are, if you’re reading this!). Everyone else is left to fend off the dire moralizing and see-it-coming-from-space humor.
When a character in this film says “what can possibly go wrong?” or “how bad can it get?” in conversation, you just know how that punchline is going to end. Inevitably, something bad happens and the rest of the cast all look at the perpetrator and roll their eyes with “don’t say that!” fatalism. Now, I don’t mind this style of humor, because it normally works well to provide a good chuckle when the crap hits the fan, but Continental Drift uses it all the time. I don’t mean once or twice, but five or six times this same kind of joke is used (among others), and it starts to get old reaaaaaaaalllll quick. Much of the dialogue humor is derived from generational division between Manny and his daughter Peaches, the latter of whom is the generic American Rebellious Teen clone to which we all start to roll our eyes at. Captain Gutt’s crew, which contains a smattering of comedy stars and plenty of opportunity for chuckles, do their best to bring the laughter but the continual shifting of focus from character to character within every scene flattens the laughs completely – Nick Frost’s elephant seal has the best lines and most chuckle-worthy personality, but I kept seeing him as the Sid of Team Gutt, instead of a unique character on his own. Distracting, much? It seems the filmmakers have tried to keep the joke ratio unachievably high, squeezing funny slapstick and Looney Toons-esque escapades into every frame and scene. Yep, the laughs are stretched to breaking point in Continental Drift, which means a lot of the franchise’s appeal is lost amongst the menagerie.
Continental Drift seems designed purely to sell more fast food toys. There’s a distinct lack of charm within the framework of this thinly developed story, although the garish characters and the bright, wiggly animation will no doubt cause many an under-6 to ask mummy if they can get one of these characters in plush form from the local burger joint. There are enough chuckles scattered throughout the story to maintain minor interest (a scene involving Scrat arriving at the lost island of “Scratlantis”, with a hilarious cameo from Patrick Stewart is a particular highlight) but the overall feeling seems to be of recycled ideas and mediocre scripting. The sheer weight of characters the film introduces and tries to invest us in are at odds with the relatively brief running time and terribly thin plot conceit, and it’s an unfortunate fact that the film just lacks the spark of fun which the first film had in spades. There’s not one particular stand-out moment or concept in this film that’s worth really mentioning, because it all feels so… bland.
I’m at the point in my film-watching career when I’m starting to be a lot more discerning with the films I watch. Finite spare time means that I’m less inclined to give a shoddy film a passing grade just because I laughed a couple of times. Ice Age: Continental Drift is a film which, regardless of the effort involved, feels like everyone involved was on cruise control. The animation is, admittedly, superb, and the cast all do a great job with the script they’re given, but the filmmakers desire to incorporate half the world into their film doesn’t do anybody any favors at all; it works just the opposite, in fact. To be honest, I felt they should have stopped with Dawn Of The Dinosaurs, which ended the trilogy off on a relatively high note; of course, money speaks louder than common sense in Hollywood, so another sequel was always on the cards. Hopefully, now that the franchise’s creative team have now officially “jumped the shark” (I mean it: there’s a jumping shark in this film), Ice Age can slowly fade away as a once-great idea that became more and more convoluted as time went on. Continental Drift is a poster child for mediocrity, and should be approached with that in mind.
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