Film Review – Ice Age: Continental Drift
There aren’t a lot of sure things in the film industry. Expected blockbusters frequently come out as duds; small films explode into hits…there seems to be nothing certain. But if I were to hazard a guess about the chances of the new Ice Age film, Ice Age: Continental Drift, it would be that it is pretty much guaranteed to be a hit.
Ice Age is one series that astounds me with its level of success. I’m not saying it isn’t good…in fact, I’m a bit of an Ice Age defender. For the most part it is pretty harmless, but it isn’t something that leaves a long-term impression. That being said, all of the films have made hundreds of millions of dollars, with the last chapter, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, earning almost $900 million worldwide. Certainly you can chalk a portion of that money up to the transition to 3D in the series (side note: this film is in 3D, too), but however you slice it, that still is a bona fide hit.
The newest film continues the adventures of Manny, Diego, and Sid (voiced by Ray Romano, Denis Leary, and John Lequizamo, respectively). This time they are sent on a journey to find Manny’s family after their pack is split up by the sudden arrival of continental drift. One of the dramatic changes heading into this film was the departure of series fixture director Carlos Saldanha, who had been involved in directing the previous three megahits. He’s moved on to continue the Rio franchise, another megahit in the making. In his place are Steve Martino (one of the directors of Horton Hears a Who!) and Mike Thurmeier (who has been involved in the animation department on several of the Ice Age movies). Despite the departure of Saldanha, there is no noticeable drop in quality, but Martino and Thurmeier don’t do anything to differentiate themselves, either.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the animation, and that has always been one of the strengths of the series. The visuals are lush and colorful, the animation is smooth, and character design is excellent. I can’t say that I was particularly impressed by the 3D, but it wasn’t terrible, and the list of films that I think make 3D worthwhile is a pretty short one. In all technical categories, this film is pretty successful, and there really isn’t much to complain about there. All the problems lie in the narrative content realm.
Without question, Ice Age is a franchise directed at children, and it really makes you have a new appreciation for companies like Pixar that are able to cater to both children and adults. The story here is for the most part unoriginal, and one viewing of this movie is enough for me. The film is riddled with clichés, but I can’t really fault it for pushing good moral values, since it is directed at kids. The plot stresses the importance of friendship and family, and while I personally don’t need to be lectured about that, I still appreciate the values that they are reinforcing. Though most of the content is geared towards children, I did enjoy the nods to The Odyssey—I just wish the filmmakers had done more with it.
The series has never suffered from a shortage of voice talent, and this chapter is no exception. In addition to the loads of A-list talent that were already in the previous films, this one adds characters voiced by the likes of Jennifer Lopez, Patrick Stewart, and Peter Dinklage. Personally, I think the series has too much focus on name talent, and I prefer the work of lesser known voices like Josh Gad. Much like many other elements of the movie, though, the addition of those voices did little make it better or worse…it still just felt like more of the same.
As with the penguins in the Madagascar series, the most popular part of this series has been the parallel narrative of the prehistoric squirrel Scrat, whose only goal in life is to find acorns. Once again, his failures are the most entertaining part of the movie, as this time he finds a treasure map deep under the sea leading to a land of acorns. His story has no influence on the rest of the story, but he provides nice comedic relief every so often. Despite his popularity, he really hasn’t been spun off on his own, besides a couple of short animated films; if they did more with him, I probably would have a renewed enthusiasm for the franchise.
If you have young kids, this film should be a slam dunk. They will love it, and it is entertaining enough that it isn’t a burden to have to sit through it. It is a lot better than most of the kid movies out there, but it won’t be winning any awards, either. On the bright side, it is a brisk 94 minutes either way—plus, it has a Simpsons short film attached to it.
Final Grade: C+