'Ice Age' Starting to Thaw
Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies
Several years ago I went to a special screening of the great Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki's enchanting and idiosyncratic animated film "Howl's Moving Castle," and at the reception dinner afterward I was seated with a couple of people who allowed that while the movie was certainly beautifully done, it was a little odd and slow. Further conversation revealed that they were producers at Blue Sky studio, the animation entity best known for "Ice Age." QED, as physicists like to say.
The "Ice Age" films, while replete with certain features that deep semioticians might consider a trifle eccentric (one could write a paper on why hip-hop artists Drake and Nicki Minaj are in this particular film voice cast as teen woolly mammoths, although don't ask me to read it; also, how long we've come from Ann-Margrock), are neither slow nor odd. The latest, "Ice Age: Continental Drift," is fast-paced, if a little monotonously overdetermined, and extremely conventional, if a trifle provisional, in its message.
The picture starts with a not-unengaging sequence wherein acorn-crazy non-speaking squirrel Scrat chases a tasty morsel to the center of the Earth, causing the earthquakes that create the condition of the movie's subtitle. It's this very condition that separates papa woolly mammoth Manny (Ray Romano) from wife Ellie and sassy teen daughter Peaches (Queen Latifah and Keke Palmer, respectively). (Incidentally, another academic paper I wouldn't read could be expended on the character names. When a "pet" named "Precious" makes itself known, you'll see why.)
This separation happens after a fraught argument with Peaches over her hanging out with the bad shallow kids of woolly mammoths, complete with a lot of awkward dialogue in which the anthropomorphized animals describe their fears concerning the wages of sin. "Next thing you know she's addicted to berries," Manny grouses about Peaches' ventures early on. And that goes on for the entire movie. And of course it alternates bromides such as "friends don't leave friends behind" with booger jokes. The loyalty lessons continue as Manny, saber-toothed tiger Diego (Denis Leary), idiot sloth Sid (John Leguizamo) and Sid's frankly gross grandma (Wanda Sykes) float helplessly out to sea only to be assaulted by ice ship-pirating great ape Gutt (Peter Dinklage), who gets his own "Captain Hook's Waltz" song and whose sleek second-in-command is, whaddya know, a female tiger (could it be? Yes, it is: Jennifer Lopez, J.Lo, Jenny From the Block!).
I'm making this whole thing sound kind of insufferable, but ... well, while on the whole I'd rather be watching old Road Runner cartoons, the best stuff in "Ice Age: Continental Drift," e.g. the animated action sequences, the sprawling awesome landscapes, the perhaps too-self-consciously-wacky but nevertheless effective creature design, all rendered in crystal-clear 3-D (at least in the screening I attended), did satisfy my animation jones on a certain level. The sequences referencing "The Odyssey" and Atlantis were pretty clever, and executed with real brio.
Still, it all would have been more enjoyable without all the treacle and pandering. I think maybe had FOX tacked the excellent dialogue-free Simpsons short "The Longest Daycare" onto the end of the feature instead of prefacing the feature with it, that might have made a nice palate cleanser. But no. Instead, the image that stuck with me on the way out was from the end credits, in which a live-action Leary partakes in the nothing-is-more-important-than-family sing-along and tries very hard to look sincere. I was torn between feeling sorry for the guy and seriously admiring his professionalism.
Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various publications and websites, and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He lives in Brooklyn.