When a woolly mammoth cops an attitude and smirks, “It’s not like it’s the end of the world,” there is certain to be trouble ahead. Or in the case of the 3-D animated"Ice Age: Continental Drift,"a whole lotta trouble.
A whole lotta shakin’ too, especially after Scrat, that acorn-obsessed saber-toothed squirrel (voiced by Chris Wedge), manages to crack the ice, which creates the continents and triggers the breakup of the polar icecaps. So much for global warming.
The film was co-directed by Steve Martino (“Robots”) and Michael Thurmeier (“Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs"co-director) from a screenplay by Michael Berg, who co-wrote the original “Ice Age,” and Jason Fuchs, making his feature debut. The fourth edition in this solid, if not overly scintillating franchise is an improvement over No. 3, 2009’s “Dawn of the Dinosaurs,” which completely lost it when the Ice Age went tropical.
In “Continental Drift,” the filmmakers have gone a little crazy too, but in a good way. Smack dab in the middle of things there’s a big Broadway-style number involving pirates. It’s a frivolous but fabulous bit that seems one-part homage to Disney’s animated musicals, and one-part nod to Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, yet it works as an excellent diversion and not just because of the music. The real kick, thank you “Game of Thrones,” is that Peter Dinklage has come aboard as the fiercest, baddest pirate captain ever, and he sings.
Captain Gutt is a crusty old orangutan with a sinister grin, seriously lethal fingernails (“thems what do the gutting, arrr”) and a motley crew — except for the silver saber-toothed babe Shira (Jennifer Lopez). For those wondering why there are suddenly pirates in prehistoric times, well, this is probably the wrong movie for you.
The old standbys are back, but thanks to Scrat, things are a disaster. Manny the mammoth (Ray Romano) and his truculent teenager Peaches (Keke Palmer) are at odds over her dating. A hunky Ethan (Drake) is the apple of her eye, something her best friend Louis (Josh Gad), a mole hog, gets mopey over. Sid the sloth’s (John Leguizamo) estranged parents have stopped by long enough to drop off Granny (Wanda Sykes sounding like her stand-up self, but G-rated). Macho saber-toothed tiger Diego (Denis Leary) is having a midlife crisis, wondering if being a bachelor is really all it’s cracked up to be.
Before anything can be resolved, everything literally cracks up. Mountains start crumbling, icebergs start breaking apart and within moments Peaches and mom Ellie (Queen Latifah) are left on land, while Manny, Diego, Sid and Granny are clinging to a chunk of iceberg on the high seas. Captain Gutt with his cold heart soon rides out of the mists and the fun begins.
“Ice Age’s” stories are fundamentally all about family and there is no messing with that principle at this point in the game. It’s all geared to be easily consumed by little ones, there are morals to the story and the jokes are built on the animation antics rather than double entendres or pop culture cleverness. That means Manny’s raison d’etre is simple — get back to Ellie and Peaches because that is what good dads and husbands do, we are told, in case there was some confusion on those responsibilities.
Captain Gutt has other ideas in mind. Schemes and more schemes follow, as do sirens in various prehistoric guises. There are many standoffs and sword fights, planks to walk and 3-D pranks to play.
From its 2002 beginning, the look of the film franchise has always been one of its strong points and “Continental Drift” takes it up a notch. The high-seas action and the way in which old Mother Earth is falling apart are very cool in their execution and make for great watching. The dialogue is sometimes too sluggish and definitely too preachy, the ending is a little too sappy, yet somehow this strange collection of prehistoric critters and their completely illogical life are consistently likable, if not quite lovable.
‘Ice Age: Continental Drift’
MPAA rating: PG for mild rude humor and action/peril
Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes
Playing: In general release