Much like climate change itself, there’s something inexorable about the “Ice Age” movies. They just keep coming, having gotten off to a great start in 2002, but gradually declining in quality ever since.
The big chill continues in “Ice Age: Continental Drift,” the fourth installment in the series, and the mildest. The prehistoric travelers are still lumbering along in search of warmer climes; the new wrinkle is that mammoths Manny and Ellie (voiced by Ray Romano and Queen Latifah) have a teenage daughter on their hands.
Which leads to some tired sitcom moaning from Manny about how he doesn’t want his daughter hanging around with the other delinquent mammoths. Regardless of the hip-hop lingo used here, this is straight from “Everybody Loves Raymond”—or “Father Knows Best,” actually.
The heart of the “Ice Age” series, the dingbat sloth named Sid (John Leguizamo), gets saddled with a cranky granny (Wanda Sykes), a literally toothless stereotype. Along with tiger Diego (Denis Leary), they’re set adrift on an ice floe with Manny and sent on a sea journey.
Before they can find their way back to their loved ones, these wanderers must battle against a pirate ape (Peter Dinklage) and his ragged crew. Not the freshest twist on the formula — what are pirates doing in a movie about prehistory? — and the jokes are similarly stale.
That won’t matter to the target audience, because there’s a lot of slapstick on hand. But in the battle of cartoon franchises, this one comes up far short of this summer’s standard, the hilarious “Madagascar 3.”
The movie’s really good to look at, in 3-D or not: A big storm at sea is convincing, and the creatures, from a whale to a giant crab, are nicely designed. The whole thing is competent, but the spark isn’t there.
Needless to say, the squirrel named Scrat, whose pursuit of the perfect acorn (or any acorn) is now approaching Homeric proportions, is very much on hand, and, as usual, he gets some of the funniest material. Scrat isn’t exactly integrated into the main action, although in this episode he does trigger the separation of the prehistoric land mass into separate continents.
If you’ve been watching the “Ice Age” movies for 10 years, you will take some pleasure from seeing Scrat finally arrive at his long-dreamed-of destination. Of course, given his run of luck, even this triumph must be fleeting.
Say this for “Ice Age,” it doesn’t sugar-coat anything: Species are going extinct, and the squirrel never gets the acorn. If your child asks you the meaning of “fatalism,” you need look no further than this series.
“Ice Age: Continental Drift”
Episode No. 4 of the animated series, this time with our heroes cast adrift on an ice floe and sidetracked by pirates. The movie looks good, but it’s the mildest of the franchise; the only real saving grace is the tragically frustrated arc of Scrat, the prehistoric squirrel in search of an acorn.
Rated: PG for subject matter.
Showing: Alderwood, Cinebarre, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marsyville, Stanwood, Pacific Place, Thorton Place, Woodinville, Blue Fox, Cascade, Oak Harbor.