THE PITCH: When an earthquake sends Manny the mammoth, Sid the sloth and Diego the sabre-tooth (Ray Romano, John Leguizamo and Denis Leary) afloat on the ocean, they must contend with vicious ape pirate Gutt (Peter Dinklage) and his crew to get home. Meanwhile, Manny’s daughter Peaches (Keke Palmer) learns teenage life lessons about friendship and stuff, like the Disney Channel in the Pleistocene Epoch.
MONEY SHOTS: Scrat the squirrel (voiced by Chris Wedge) provides reliably funny sight gags, including a trip to Earth’s magnetic core. Shifting tectonic plates open up scary-cool crevasses. An ice floe bristling with tree-trunks and bones serves as Captain Gutt’s “ship.” Sid’s elderly granny (Wandy Sykes) takes her first bath in years and leaves an oil slick. The heroes have a hilarious encounter with a group of sirens, which might scare very young kids.
BEST LINE: When Diego moons over a comely smilodon (Jennifer Lopez), Manny teases him by saying, “I know what you’ve got! The 'L’ word!” and Sid adds, “Yeah! Leprosy!”
WORST PUN: “Where’s my booty?” asks Flynn (Nick Frost), a dim-witted elephant seal on Gutt’s crew. He’s looking for his food, yet thrusts his butt on the screen, just in case we missed the double entendre.
BETTER PUN: “It’s been a diversion!” Captain Gutt realizes after our heroes trick him. “I know! I’m having a blast!” exclaims Flynn.
VOICE CAMEOS: Peter Dinklage of “Game of Thrones” gets a nice change of pace as bloodthirsty Gutt (although he’s not quite as funny as you’d hope). Aziz Ansari and Nicki Minaj, two of the most distinctive voices in pop culture, are wasted in minor roles. “Star Trek’s” Patrick Stewart makes an amusing contribution to the Scrat sequence.
SOUNDTRACK HIGHLIGHTS: Gutt’s crew sing a sea shanty in honor of their captain, but it doesn’t match the vultures crooning “Food, Glorious Food” in Ice Age: The Meltdown. Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” provides a recurring motif in Scrat’s subplot. J-Lo and Queen Latifah (returning as Manny’s wife) sing a duet over the closing credits
POP REFERENCES: As in Brave, a supporting character wears Braveheart-style blue face paint. When separated from his family, Manny shouts, “I will find you!” a la Daniel Day-Lewis in Last of the Mohicans. Giant waves seem reminiscent of A Perfect Storm. Prehistoric chipmunks make chirpy sounds suspiciously similar to the minions from Despicable Me. For a pop-savvy cartoon feature set largely at sea, there’s no reference to Titanic.
EXTRAS?: Ice Age is preceded by the first “Simpsons” theatrical short, “The Longest Daycare,” in which Maggie takes on her nemesis, the baby with one eyebrow. Nothing after the credits, though, so you don’t have to stick around.
FRANCHISE CALL-BACKS: Manny’s line “Get off my face!” and Sid’s references to Uncle Fungus hark back to the first movie. Sid nods to the third film when he says, “We fought dinosaurs in the Ice Age! It didn’t make sense, but it sure was exciting.”
HOW’S THE 3D? It’s good, as long as you like stuff flying at your face, like swords, planks and especially mammalian snouts and muzzles in sharp focus. In fact, most of the 3D this summer has been pretty good. Avatar was two and a half years ago, but it seems like Hollywood’s has only recently figured 3D out.
BETTER THAN THE OTHERS? Nope. For films about wild animals, it’s a pretty tame franchise, but the original Ice Age had the highest sense of danger and dramatic stakes.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Continental Drift’s big finale, with frantic action scenes and lousy lines, represent the Ice Age films at their worst, and the hectoring pro-family messages get a bit much after a while. It's hard to get muster any strong feelings over the Ice Age movies, but the saving grace remains Scrat’s consistently funny slapstick, which puts everything else in the shade.
Ice Age: Continental Drift. 2 stars. Directed by Steve Martino and Mike Thurmeier. Stars the voices of Ray Romano, Keke Palmer. Rated PG. Opens Fri., July 13. At area theaters.
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