9 July 2012


If you go to see Ice Age: Continental Drift, you'll see The Longest Daycare, a silent short film featuring Maggie Simpson, before the main feature. In a return to the Ayn Rand School for Tots, a setting invented for the classic Simpsons episode, A Streetcar Named Marge, the short revisits an old gag and manages to be funny and cute with no dialogue whatsoever- it's the most fun I've had watching The Simpsons in a while.

The Simpsons has endured for so long that even its minor characters have become iconic, and so Maggie's adventure makes a nice little prelude to the latest in a series of films that is running solely on box office returns. Certainly, the gag of Scrat chasing his acorn has become very well worn, and yet it incites a seismic shift beneath the Earth that splits Panacea up into the continents. Manny the mammoth is separated from his family in the chaos, and he drifts across the ocean with Sid and Diego on a block of ice, hoping to get back home.

Ice Age was released ten years ago, with its tale of three mismatched animals clubbing together to trek across the newly frozen Earth and reunite a human infant with his tribe. The story was good, the jokes were funny, and it seemed to set up Blue Sky Studios as a decent contender with Pixar. Watching the sequels, which have become progressively more like disaster movies about the development of the Earth, that first instalment seems like a distant memory.

After the meltdown that provided the plot of the second film, and the dinosaur resurgence that drove the slightly better third film, the latest subject doesn't even provide a snappy subtitle- Continental Drift only does a good job in representing the sequel's episodic, meandering structure. Besides which, after the utterly bonkers premise of an underground ecosystem in which dinosaurs are hiding out, a geological shift can't be seen as anything but a step down.

On the whole disaster movie theme, it's almost like this series is now being built to lampoon Roland Emmerich movies, as Shrek lampooned Disney fairytales. But each successive film has become a little more unknowing in its magnetism to cliché, its uninteresting characters and its overblown, unfocused scope. Three sequels down the line, they've done the Disney direct-to-video template enough times that once vibrant and likeable characters have become boring and repetitive- remember the emotional punch from first time around, when we discover that Manny's family was killed by human hunters? There's not been any developments as interesting as that since then.

Instead, this fourth run-around gives us a menagerie of pirates. Think less of The Pirates!, more of Pirates of the Caribbean, another series that stagnated with each successive sequel, thanks to the introduction of disparate and wacky elements. Ice Age 4's pirates are basically comic relief characters, displacing the comic relief characters introduced in previous instalments, like possums Crash and Eddie. Sadly, there's no return for Buck, the adventurous weasel voiced by Simon Pegg, who was the highlight of the previous film, though Nick Frost gets a couple of laughs, voicing a big fat walrus pirate.

There are enough sub-plots to populate a fair chunk of an animated TV series, which might actually be the best place for Ice Age's episodic segments from here on out. Manny is having trouble communicating with his teenage daughter, Sid's family have dumped his rambunctious grandmother into his care, Diego fancies another sabre-toothed tiger, Scrat's looking for a nut paradise, and so on. These sub-plots mash together, with the gags laid on top, and while I chortled a couple of times, most of them completely fail to elicit a response.

Most annoyingly, the film ends with a musical number. It's not even a musical number of the Dreamworks variety- it takes place over the credits, and includes footage of the voice actors singing and mucking about. It's about as cheesy as it gets, and it exemplifies how Blue Sky has fallen into aping the old Dreamworks tropes, which also troubled Rio. The weird thing is, the film is sure to make a ton of money- at this point, even Shrek was becoming less popular, hence the final chapter, and yet Ice Age seems likely to trundle on through yet another geohistorical catastrophe. The difference is, even Shrek Forever After was better than this.

Ice Age: Continental Drift is easily the weakest in its series so far, reverting to the slack storytelling and limp humour of the second instalment, rather than capitalising on some of the more imaginative moments and humour in Dawn of the Dinosaurs. The only thing I can really praise is the reassuring commitment of the familiar core voice cast, including Ray Romano, John Leguizamo and Denis Leary. However, given how the film drifts mechanically from sub-plot to setpiece and back again, it's not enough to sustain the series to a fifth instalment. Only the inevitably massive box office returns will ensure that.

Ice Age: Continental Drift is released in 2D and 3D from Friday, at cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Ice Age: Continental Drift, why not share your comments below?

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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