I was charmed, and pleasantly surprised, when I saw Ice Age a decade ago. Its enormous success has prompted multiple sequels, which have made a ton of money around the world (with Fox cannily hiring well-known actors and comedians to provide the voices for their individual countries). This money machine, with its sure-fire kid appeal, makes the fourth entry in the series, Ice Age: Continental Drift, virtually critic-proof. But it doesn’t stop me from saying that everything I liked about the original movie has been worn down. Even Scrat and his continuing quest for the perfect acorn seems overly familiar (in part, because some of his material was already used in a short subject last year that was packaged with Rio).
The artists and writers at Blue Sky studio recognize this problem. That’s why the new Ice Age focuses largely on new characters like Peaches, Manny the woolly mammoth’s teenage daughter (voiced by Keke Palmer) and her desire to fit in with the cool kids (voiced by hip hop artists Drake and Nicki Minaj). Other newcomers include a nasty orangutan pirate (Peter Dinklage), his slinky saber-tooth tiger second mate (Jennifer Lopez), and Sid the Sloth’s feisty granny (Wanda Sykes). Their misadventures take place against the backdrop of the Earth’s prehistoric growing pains, causing seismic shifts and eruptions that separate our heroes from their families.
The result is a script that’s jam-packed with jokes, relatable story ingredients, and large-scale action, which is well-staged in 3-D. I don’t think kids will have a chance to get bored.
Never mind that the freshness of the original Ice Age and its main characters Manny (Ray Romano), Diego (Denis Leary), and Sid (John Leguizamo) has dissipated. How many series could sustain themselves at all through a fourth iteration?
But the fact that there is a fourth Ice Age, instead of something novel and different from a creative team like the one at Blue Sky, is another sign of the times for Hollywood. As long as families around the world pay to see sequels like this, I’m sure there is no end in sight.