Friday, July 13, 2012

Review: "Ice Age: Continental Drift"

I was all prepared to dislike "Ice Age: Continental Drift." The series has not captivated me in its three previous iterations. Though the animation from Blue Sky Studios has been duly impressive, the characters and plots seemed decidedly downmarket -- crafted more for obvious appeal to kiddies than genuine amazement and storytelling craftsmenship.

Plus, these movies seem to come out every three or so years like clockwork, piling up reliable mountains of dough, not to mention inescapable toy and marketing tie-ins.

Heck, I'm not even truly sure if I saw the last one, 2009's "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs." Manny, the mammoth lead character voiced by Ray Romano, has somehow acquired a teenage daughter (Keke Palmer) that I have no memory of. Last I recall, he was still wooing wife-to-be Ellie (Queen Latifah).

Along with laconic sabre-tooth tiger Diego (Denis Leary, sounding bored like only Denis Leary can) and goofball sloth Sid (John Leguizamo), this cast of critters has certainly faced every prehistoric peril imaginable. First it was an ice age, then global warming, then the return of the dinosaurs.

I wonder if we'll ever see: "Ice Age: Natural Selection Bites," when the dwindling food supply can no longer feed Manny's bulk, and Diego decides he'd rather have a Sid snack than run with his adopted pack.

So, to sum up, my expectations were pretty low.

Therefore I was pleasantly surprised by a reasonably entertaining bit of family fun. The main characters are still cloying to me, but other aspects overcome the staleness. There's a spectacular action sequence to open things as the planet's land masses start pulling apart from each other -- due to the misadventures of the Scrat, the acorn-obsessed beastie who's sort of the mascot of the series.

All I can say is, the Scrat may seem pathetic but his survivability and outsized impact on planetary development actually make him the most powerful creature on Earth.

The new film also boasts a really terrific villain, Captain Gutt, a baboon pirate voiced with dastardly aplomb by Peter Dinklage. He even gets to sing a clever sea shanty with an assist from Jennifer Lopez, who plays Gutt's snow leopard first mate, Shira.

The pirates ride around on gigantic floating icebergs, stealing booty (food is pretty much the only valuable) and enslaving survivors of the continental catastrophe.

There are several other new additions who add some hot sauce to the mix. Wanda Sykes plays Sid's Granny, who's a combination of every old-person joke in the book, but she sells it and has several very funny moments. Aziz Ansari voices Squint, a hyperactive rabbit on the pirate crew, who yearns to move up the masthead. Nick Frost adds more comedic relief as a dim-witted elephant seal.

And Josh Gad plays Louis, a tiny molehog who's sweet on Peaches -- that's Manny and Ellie's daughter; the prospect of their coupling raises some urgent anatomical issues.

The story's about what you'd expect. Manny and his best pals get separated from the rest of their clan, and spend the rest of the movie trying to get back together. They run afoul of Captain Gutt, foil his plans, and he goes on one long revenge kick. Meanwhile, Manny's daughter has to learn to resist peer pressure and Be Herself.

"Ice Age: Continental Drift" held few surprises for me, but I have to admit that the execution by the filmmakers and voice cast is impressive. For lowbrow distractions for tykes, one could do worse.

2.5 stars out of four

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