Having never seen an Ice Age film, I carried the impression that they were genial, harmless, half-smart entertainments, something you could easily misidentify as a DreamWorks Animation production. But if this fourth adventure about a team of post-Jurassic survivalists is a representative example, the enterprise leaves the viewers’ eyes glazed over with a kind of dreary horror at a relentless onslaught of sameness and stupidity, an 87-minute timesuck, choked on the last exhaust fumes of Spielberg’s blockbuster legacy.
Carried over from the previous installments is the trio of protagonists, surrounded by a gaggle of obnoxious, archaic racial caricatures. Their landscape is 95% rollercoaster; six Six Flags theme parks put together would scarcely be sufficient to accommodate such wonders. The idiots and boors travel hither and yon, making smart-aleck remarks to us along the way. That’s the sum total of what occurs in Ice Age: Continental Drift. Pre-teens may like it, though few will remember it as fondly, or vividly, as a Pixar or Studio Ghibli production, even a second-rate one.
I mentioned horror. Not for its overall betterment, the film makes room for occasional glimpses into the abyss. There’s a running joke (well, not really a “running joke” as much as “a thing in the script that gets mentioned more than once”) about Sid’s Granny’s invisible friend, whom she calls Precious. The characters assume the grandma sloth is touched in the head, but when the non-imaginary animal identity of Precious is finally revealed, the sound you hear is all of the critics who remember the 2009 Oscar season gasping in unison. Well, maybe you won’t hear anything, given that the gag is arguably concealed by its own blatant crudeness; that is, you may doubt that the writers could have meant, you know, that. Also, if you’re a child of the ’90s, you will recoil at the end-credits sight of the real voice actors, including Denis Leary, singing the inevitable Oscar-baiting theme song. Yes, Denis Leary, holding an unironic, “We Are the World” pose, headphones held to one ear, singing a song. Lenny Bruce wept.
At this point in the history of computer animation, it’s beginning to feel like each studio is precision-targeting subdivisions in their child-moviegoer demographic. Pixar coughs out masterpieces for Oscar trophies and critics’ lists. The Shrek quadrilogy (including its Puss in Boots tributary), encased in hard shells of pop-culture/storybook referentiality, and the Madagascar movies, with their freewheeling, spirited surrealism, aim to please both the broader, less-demanding spectrum of moviegoers, as well as those of the ADHD set, the latter being better equipped than most kids to handle rapid-fire gag deployment. With a comparatively less auspicious track record, the Ice Age franchise remains Blue Sky’s flagship—their only ship, when you get down to it—and Ice Age: Continental Drift caters almost exclusively to the remedial, Duplo Blocks demographic, leaving parents and guardians bored to distraction.