Do you need to drag a small child to a movie theater for 90 minutes and attempt (in vain) to keep them quiet and sitting still? Well, then I have a movie for you! Ice Age: Continental Drift is a kid's movie by-the-numbers. It operates at a slapstick-chase-scene-per-second scale, with a pile of generic Saturday morning cartoon conflicts thrown in for good measure. No one will be too upset if your infant starts wailing in the middle.
Four films in, the Ice Age series makes so much money that it probably isn't going anywhere. I just wish it strove to be more than kid's movie fodder. These films must hold some kind of record for characters chasing each other, falling, getting hurt, and generally doing silly things. Really, Ice Age seems incapable of sitting still for five seconds and telling an actual story.
The worst part is that these movies have so much potential to work with. The setting; the variety of prehistoric animals; the huge voice casts; and some genuine moments of imaginative, heartfelt, and creative writing make Ice Age feel like constant lost potential.
Of the four films, Continental Drift seems the least concerned with heartfelt storytelling. Manfred, the wooly mammoth main character, is dealing with a daughter who's coming of age and interested in boys. He is the typical, overprotective father, stepping on her toes and igniting an argument that's disrupted when the world begins to crack apart. The cracks leave Manfred, Sid, and Diego separated from the herd, beginning an epic quest to reunite with his wife and daughter.
Left at sea on a chunk of ice, the group come upon a band of animal pirates led by an ape named Gutt (voiced by Game of Thrones' Peter Dinklage!). They're all misfits and outcasts, kept together by Gutt's maniacal leadership. I guess there could have been some themes about family and camaraderie, but Continental Drift only ever hints at anything of substance, quickly moving along to the next silly moment.
At least this one has some epic visuals and a few good jokes to enjoy. The exaggerated tectonic shift for which the film is named creates massive moving walls and shifting land that's, if anything, fun to look at. And while most of the jokes are the lowbrow slapstick for which the series is known, there are some clever laughs here and there.
There's a bar set by Pixar's films that Ice Age seems to have no interest in even acknowledging, and that's too bad. When Continental Drift hints at the sense of wonder that those films inspire, you can't help feeling that a great concept has been wasted on a pile of gags and a plot that wouldn't pass in a sitcom.
What's worse is that Ice Age: Continental Drift is preceded by a Simpsons short film called The Longest Daycare. This short packs more clever writing into five minutes than there were in the entire 90 minutes that followed.