‘Ice Age: Continental Drift’ gets lost in a sea of mediocrity
‘Ice Age: Continental Drift’ gets lost in a sea of mediocrity

Not to beat a dead wooly mammoth here or anything, but the “Ice Age” movies are all pretty much interchangeable.

When the franchise debuted it stood out as a decent non-Pixar, non-“Shrek,” computer-animated family film. Now, these movies are simply bankable, summertime distractions; a way for parents to tolerably pacify their kids for a couple of hours away from the blistering summer sun.

As a father of two kids under six, I am totally cool with these films and have no problem justifying their existence, even as the latest “Ice Age: Continental Drift” plops off the Hollywood assembly line.

The basic “Ice Age” formula revolves around three main characters: Manny (Ray Romano) the moody yet lovable mammoth, Diego (Denis Leary) the gruff yet gentle saber-toothed tiger, and Sid (John Leguizamo) the stupid yet painfully stupid sloth.

Take them all, add some grand threat to their existence, some pop-culture references, and a lesson about the value of family, and voila, you have yourself an “Ice Age” movie.

The only real difference is that each time around new characters are simply glommed on.

Over the years Manny has acquired a wife (Queen Latifah) and daughter (Keke Palmer), Sid is now tasked with the care of his elderly, slightly-less-mentally-stable Granny (a very funny Wanda Sykes) and Diego gets a potential love interest in the form of Shira (Jennifer Lopez).

The grand threat this time around is two-fold because the seismic separation of the continents causes Manny, Diego, Sid, and Granny to become separated from the rest of the herd. Set adrift on an iceberg, our heroes encounter the film’s other menace; a misfit menagerie of a pirate crew led by the vicious ape Captain Gutt (Peter Dinklage, whose inherent awesomeness makes everything better).

I’ll set aside any scientific quibbles about how it is essentially impossible to “steer” an iceberg or how the separation of the continents was actually a much more gradual process, and just say that the main hunk of the film as passably entertaining as you would expect.

There is one other essential piece of the “Ice Age” formula that in my humble estimation validates the entire existence of all four movies and that is Scrat, the bug-eyed, squirrel-looking critter that relentlessly pursues an acorn in spite of all manner of physical abuse.

Scrat is a direct heir of Looney Tunes greats such as Wile E. Coyote and Sylvester who’s endless pratfalls and humiliations make his acorn a worth replacement for any roadrunner or tweety bird.

Squeezed in between the main plot, Scrat’s acorn hunt leads him to the center of the earth, a desert island, and the utopian Scratlantis where it seems that finally, Scrat can live happily ever after (but don’t bet on it).

Scrat consistently generates roughly ten times more laughs than the rest of the film and while a little of his antics go a long way, I still found myself wanting more.

As far as I’m concerned they can keep making these movies until the next ice age as long as Scrat is involved. The little bursts of manic absurdity this character provides can make any formulaic money-grab tolerable. Michael Bay should consider bringing Scrat onboard for the next “Transformers” movie.

“Ice Age: Continental Drift” is rated PG for mild rude humor and action/peril.

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