While the fourth installment of "Ice Age" may tread the same ground as its predecessors, there's no denying that the animated film is entertaining.
"Ice Age: Continental Drift" reimagines how the continents were formed. Our old pal, Scrat, who has stolen the show in previous "Ice Age" films is back with an acorn addiction that's bigger than ever. And this time, his obsession wreaks complete havoc on the inhabitants of "Ice Age." His quest for the elusive acorn has him changing the face of planet Earth when he manages to crack the ice creating a cataclysmic shift (parents, take note, this could be a good stepping off point to discuss supercontinent Pangaea and the scientific history of the real continental drift).
Scrat's crack-up creates the story's drama as Manny (Ray Romano returning as the voice of the woolly mammoth), Diego the saber toothed tiger (Denis Leary) and Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo) become separated from the rest of the herd. The most problematic is Manny's separation from wife Ellie (Queen Latifah) and their teenage daughter Peaches (Keke Palmer), who fans will remember was born in 2009's "Dawn of the Dinosaurs."
The story, in keeping with "Ice Age's" tradition, revolves around family, with lots of inside parenting jokes for Mom and Dad. "No teenager is ever up early," says Manny, when he can't find his daughter after the first seismic shake up. After he discovers she's run off to the Falls with the other teenaged mammoths, he begins to have every woolly mammoth father's anxiety. "The Falls? That's a gateway hangout. First it's the Falls, then she's piercing her trunk, and the next thing you know, she's addicted to berries."
The film was co-directed by Steve Martino ("Robots") and Michael Thurmeier ("Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" co-director, who is probably out to prove himself after that previous installment disaster). Michael Berg, who co-wrote the original "Ice Age," teams with Jason Fuchs for the screenplay.
There are plenty of new characters to keep things moving along, including an infusion of some hip hop stars. Ethan, the Big Mammoth on Campus, is voiced by hip hop sensation Drake, while rapper Nicki Minaj voices one of the mammoth "It" girls, Steffie. Her character is so memorable and one of the most comedic, so here's hoping she has an even bigger part when "Ice Age 5" debuts in 2013.
"Continental Drift" also gets a lift from the introduction of a sinister pirate orangutan named Captain Gutt (Peter Dinklage of "Game of Thrones"). Gutt is straight out of "Pirates of the Caribbean," even singing a song that could be in a Disney musical. Every movie has to have a bad guy and Gutt is bad to the bone. He's also the catalyst for many a raucous chase that will keep the kids from getting antsy.
Meanwhile, Gutt's first mate is a fearless female saber-tooth tiger named Shira, voiced by Jennifer Lopez, who also sings the music video with Minaj at the film's end. Shira also serves as the new love interest for Diego.
The show stealer among the new additions, however, is Wanda Sykes as Sid the Sloth's Granny. Toothless, wrinkly and forever looking for her missing pet named Precious, Sykes's Granny has a host of one liners and provides the audience with the last laugh right up until the very end.
"Ice Age: Continental Drift" goes up against "The Amazing Spider-Man" this week, and it is sure to have a mammoth weekend at the box office. It's not that "Ice Age: Continental Drift" is spectacular; it's formulaic and, at times, more syrupy than a Biggie Sized drink, but the 3-D makes it enjoyable to watch, and parents will find enough humor to keep them entertained.
In one of the hottest summers on record, "Ice Age" offers a cool, family fun retreat.