Frozen in Cliche

The most recent Ice Age installment has all the well-worn marks of a paycheck sequel

Frozen in Cliche
Yeah, we’ve got it by now. You really like that acorn.
Movies like this one make me despair. Because it is going to make a bazillion bucks at the box office around the world — the three previous flicks in the series have grossed close to $2 billion — and there’s absolute nothing here that warrants such success. Unless one considers its dubious “quality” of lowest-common-denominator-ness a smart business move. The  movies have always been just bland enough and just colorful enough and just simplistic enough to be just passably tolerable enough to viewers across global cultures.

It’s hard to imagine that anyone actually has fond memories of those films — or even any notable memories at all. They’re nothing more than forgettable time-wasters that are just inoffensive enough to not keep audiences away. I find that kind of inoffensiveness offensive, though.

Alas for me, the object lesson that those three earlier films taught their makers has been fully taken to shoddy, charmless heart in Continental Drift. Might as well call it Ice Age: The Paycheckening. The sitcom philosophizing of Manny the mammoth (the offensively inoffensive Ray Romano) finds entirely predictable inspiration in the fact that his daughter, Peaches (the voice of Keke Palmer), is now a “teenager.” Oh no, she’s hanging out with the bad kids! Oh no boys! She’s not allowed to date till she’s 35! It’s a blast from the past: not the Pleistocene, but the 1950s. Meanwhile, Manny’s wife, Ellie (the voice of Queen Latifah, stripped of her usual spark), sighs a lot in that longsuffering sitcom-mom way. And Peaches learns a lesson about the importance of being true to herself and standing by her friends!

When it’s not wallowing in the cesspool of sitcom caricature — Sid the sloth (the voice of John Leguizamo) gets a visit from his “hilariously” crude Granny (the voice of Wanda Sykes) — Continental Drift is shamelessly stealing random cool stuff from far better movies that at least attempted to inject a modicum of originality into their desperate grasping for box-office billions. An incident of questionable geological authenticity sends Manny, Sid, and Diego the saber tooth tiger (the voice of Denis Leary, and man, do I hate to hear him so tampered down) off into the ocean on an ice floe ... where they encounter pirates.

Yes, Continental Drift figures no one will really care all that much if it tries to appropriate some mojo from Pirates of Caribbean with its band of animal buccaneers — led by baboon Captain Gutt (the voice of Peter Dinklage; yes, really, kill me now) — who sail the seas with no apparent purpose except to confound Manny and Co. The bizarre references to Battleship (the movie) and the Easter bunny are but things of no consequence next to the utterly disgraceful borrowing of the wonderfully clever and funny King Julien and his army of adoring lemurs from Madagascar for the Everybody Loves Manny-versus-Captain Jack subplot.

The only material that works is, as always, the Scrat (whose squeals are voiced by Chris Wedge), the prehistoric squirrel rat on a perpetual quest for his beloved acorn. With the focus here, Continental Drift is gloriously loony in a purely manic cartoon way. It’s the insistence on trying to make the rest of the story “mean” something where it completely fails in every way.

Cheap and cheaty, plus preposterous in all ways — narratively, thematically, myth logically, geologically, emotionally — Continental Drift inspires me to one thing: to sincerely hope that Ice Age 5 is subtitled Mass Extinction.