Is ICE AGE 4: CONTINENTAL DRIFT another fun addition to the franchise, or has the series gone the way of the woolly mammoth?
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When has a franchise outstayed its welcome? In general, people might point to the age of the actors, time between films, as well as when the series first debuted. I'd also add cultural relevance to that list. Rambo? Should have ended when Stallone got too old and we stopped fighting the Vietnamese. Rocky? See Rambo minus the Vietnamese. The longer a franchise runs, the greater the possibility that it fails to connect with audiences, ultimately damaging the product and leaving few prospects short of a reboot. Pirates of the Carribean and the original Planet of the Apes are excellent examples of Hollywood's outdated belief that bigger, louder, and more bizarre should be better. Aliens in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull? Really?? A genetic copy of Ripley, born to assassinate Xenomorphs while a Firefly-like crew watches on in Resurrection? Come on. When half of your stars leave a project because either the story bites, or your film relies on actors who last starred in the franchise 19 years before, you know it's time to go. Dreamworks' Ice Age series has been a bizarre exception to this rule; as it celebrates its 10 year anniversary with Continental Drift, we are reminded why it still works.
ICE AGE 4: CONTINENTAL DRIFT picks up soon after the end of Dawn of the Dinosaurs, as Manny the woolly mammoth (Ray Romano,Everybody Loves Raymond), Diego the tiger (Dennis Leary, The Thomas Crown Affair), and Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo, Romeo and Juliet) are separated from their families by an earthquake which begins to separate the continents into those we know today. Blame Scrat the saber-toothed squirrel for this, as his obsession to find the perfect location for his acorn has left our trio stuck on a massive iceberg headed into dangerous waters. Meanwhile, Manny's mate Ellie (singer Queen Latifa) is struggling to keep their daughter Peaches (Keke Parker, Barbershop 2) from growing up, while Peaches can't get far enough away from mom and dad. But, there's more subplots here than a Cro-Magnon can shake a stick at: Sid must take care of his eccentric grandmother (Wanda Sykes, Over the Hedge); Diego meets a female tiger (Jennifer Lopez, The Cell) who's first officer of a band of pirates led by the orangutan Captain Gutt (Peter Drinklage, Elf); and Ellie is peer-pressured by her new mammoth friends (voiced by Drake and Nicki Minaj) while a nervous mole admirer (Josh Gad, 21) wishes Ellie would notice him.
At first, it might seem like this cacophony of subplots involving biologically impossible love triangles might slow things down. Yet, directors Steve Martino (Horton Hears a Who!) and Mike Thurmeier (Ice Age 3) keep the story moving by adding the right amount of humor and action without sacrificing time to develop the plot. True, scientists have never noted genetic blending of mammoths and moles (or talking animals for that matter), but I hope this sort of scientific tomfoolery won't keep you from seeing the film. Writer Michael Berg returns to the series he helped begin by throwing plenty of cute Ewok-like rodentia at the kids and just enough adult humor and slapstick to make parents laugh as well. While Scrat once again steals the show, try to identify the various cameo voices and be sure to get seated early to catch the funny Simpsons short preceding the feature. This should translate into a nice run at theatres, but leave the 3D experience behind and save the money for extra popcorn. And while it won't win any awards for its story, look for Ice Age 4 to receive some Oscar street cred for its animation, which is the best of the series.
Ice Age 4: Continental Drift proves that older franchises can find new life, so long as their stories remain relevant to current audiences and feature a high production value. Lesser products, take heed! Ice Age 4: Continental Drift is rated PG and has a runtime of 94 minutes.
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