Threat of Extinction
It's been a decade since the release of the very first Ice Age, and thankfully this installment of the franchise managed to stay afloat by keeping things simple, even though it still kept within its constraints of setting in the prehistoric era, and still having to bounce around the usual theme of family. Competitors like Shrek did its franchise in by doing too much too soon in delivering lacklustre gags and spoofs of pop culture that can only get you so far, and Madagascar showed how it went from strength to strength, so unless Ice Age comes up with something new, I don't really suppose it can survive beyond this, although I am more than glad to be proven wrong.
As with the teaser scenes released months back, Continental Drift opens with Scrat being directly responsible for the splitting up of the Earth's land mass into what would be the layout of today, no thanks to his continued pursuit of the acorn. And like the earlier installments, he's mostly left to do his own thing with minimal interaction with the rest of the crew, undoubtedly being one of the top draws of Ice Age. We reunite with the motley crew of Manny the mammoth (voiced by Ray Romano), Sid the Sloth (John Leguizamo), Diego the Sabre-tooth Tiger (Denis Leary), who find themselves split from their main herd when the continents split apart, and have to find their way to get back from the high seas to dry land.
That forms the crux of the main narrative, with the trio joined by Sid's grandmother (Wanda Sykes), whose presence again harks back to the theme of family, and lending themselves to be the central punching bag for gags. In finding their way back, they encounter the main antagonists of animal pirates led by a prehistoric monkey who calls itself Captain Gutt (Peter Dinklage) and deputized by a white sabre-tooth tiger Shira (Jennifer Lopez), who are adamant in having Manny and gang join their crew to loot and plunder from more lands. The introduction of a pirate crew as voiced by the likes of Nick Frost, Aziz Ansari and Alain Chabat provide for an expanded cast and characters that Ice Age 4 is of no lack of, including bit roles for Seann William Scott and Patrick Stewart.
Ice Age is clearly aimed at the younger demographics from Madagascar, and its simplicity reflects this rather clearly. Language is kept fairly simple, and almost all instances of action are kept firmly in PG, with the largest threat posed by Captain Gutt's razor sharp nails. The storyline doesn't toss up any surprises, since you'll come to expect how the story would develop, with wafer thin subplots such as the friendship gone sour between Manny and Ellie's daughter Peaches (Keke Palmer) and best pal Louis the molehog (Josh Gad) due to the former's supposed love interest, and her need to belong to her same mammoth kind, and a possible romance between Diego and Shira, which I suspect will be further developed should another follow up film be made. Queen Latifah got a reduced role here, moving aside for Peaches to step up as her character's daughter.
As usual, the animation here is first class, and despite not having watched this in the 3D format, one can guess the moments where the format gets exploited in certain scenes, with extreme closeups, and opportunity in the form of various weapons being wielded and utilized by the pirate crew. Certain scenes do make themselves quite blatant in having characters and behaviour happening directly and up close on screen, while the hasty introduction of even smaller furry creatures probably had merchandising in mind. The pirate crew does deserve special mention for how varied they all are and caricatured for story efficiency, and they do warrant perhaps a short film or direct to video adventure of their own.
Preceeded by a Simpsons short entitled The Longest Daycare, do make sure you turn up early for that, as I was a bit more entertained with what Maggie Simpson had done as the sole, primary protagonist in this short film, than everything Ice Age 4 had thrown up. This is not to say that Ice Age 4 is a bad film, on the contrary it makes for a great family outing to the movies with its entertainment value, but unless it comes up with a stronger storyline should the franchise desires to be continued, it will soon run out of steam rehashing the same old themes, and be threatened with cinematic extinction despite growing in cast numbers.