Film franchises often fall victim to 'sequelitis', which typically refers to the rapid degeneration of quality with each successive installment. However, I've found Ice Age to be one of the exceptions to the rule. I was so impressed with Dawn of the Dinosaurs in fact, that I wasn't sure how the gang could top their Journey to the Center of the Earth inspired adventure without having to take a step in the opposite direction. I mean, the third Ice Age flick took us out of the ice and into a lush tropical environment loaded with dinosaurs. The action was bigger, the scope seemingly grander. Not only that, but it also introduced Buck the weasel, one of the more memorable animated characters in recent memory. Despite my skepticism though, I was still hopeful that Continental Drift would continue to propel the franchise in the right direction.
This entry picks up some years later, the biggest change being that Peaches (Keke Palmer), Manny and Ellie's daughter (Ray Romano and Queen Latifah respectively), is now a teenager. Of course, this means that she's always embarrassed by her parents and tired of following everyone else's rules. She's a good kid with a solid head on her shoulders, but peer pressure is beginning to decide how she responds to certain social situations. This is an important crossroad in her life, because this is the first time she's ever had to struggle with character building - Does she stick with trusted friends and ideals, or does she ditch her old pals to hang with the cool clique, losing sight of who she is in the process? Sid (John Leguizamo) is also forced to contemplate things when his family pops back into his life, only to dump his confused Granny (Wanda Sykes) on him and hit the road again. Everyone seems to be asking, who am I? Am I on the path of a favorable destiny, or do I need to alter the course? Before these questions can be answered however, Scrat the squirrel causes the most damage for the sake of an acorn yet - He tampers with the Earth's core and shatters Pangaea. Massive pieces of land break away from one another, which separates Manny, Sid, Diego and Granny from the rest of the herd. They're eventually picked up by a band of pirates, but when our remaining Ice Age gang manages to sink their ship and drift away, Captain Gutt (Peter Dinklage) immediately sets course for his next destination - Revenge.
As expected, the plot is as thin as the paper it's written on. That doesn't really bother me , since the charm of Ice Age has always come from the likeable characters that constantly put themselves in harrowing, yet hilarious situations. Still, this comes as a disappointment when compared to the previous entry, which actually pulled off feeling like a grand adventure. Continental Drift on the other hand, scales things back to provide us with a watered down plot that integrates yawn-worthy thematic elements of facing peer pressure and revenge. There's nothing inherently wrong with taking a simple approach to storytelling, especially since these films are merely meant to entertain with funny gags and visual flare, but after Dawn of the Dinosaurs nearly brought the franchise to its full potential, I was definitely ready to see something more substantial, not less.
Adding to the disappointment is the overwhelming cast of new characters. Whereas the previous entry focused on creating a single character of interest, the pirate crew we're introduced to this time around mostly falls flat. Captain Gutt is a pretty decent villain, most certainly aided by the voice work of Peter Dinklage, but his lackeys are all forgettable nitwits. Even the spunky (and half-crazy) rabbit Squint, who is clearly supposed to be a misfit clone of Buck, fails to spark any interest. Worse yet is Sid's Granny, who in an attempt to make me laugh by acting feisty and senile, did little more than annoy me with her presence. Granted, that was the whole idea behind the 'Granny' character, but what good is her inclusion if she doesn't amount to any laughs? Nicki Minaj and Drake were also cast for minor roles, but why? The answer undoubtedly lies with their star power, but I don't exactly see how they're relevant in a film that's aimed at an audience that's too young to hear their music. At times, it really feels like the writers were just throwing ideas at the wall and hoping they would stick.
So, I guess some of the characters were bound to work out, right? Outside of Captain Gutt, the first new character worth mentioning is Louis (Josh Gad, most well known at this point for his role in The Book of Mormon), a sweet little molehog who has a crush on Peaches but is sadly stuck in the 'friend zone'. Since Peaches is now old enough to actually have some dialogue, she's also a welcome addition to the pack. Last but not least, there's Shira (Jennifer Lopez), a stubborn sabre-toothed cat that gets under Diego's skin and into his heart. This brings a whole new side out of the ferocious, yet loveable cat we've come to know over the last decade, and it does so without taking any credibility away from him.
I've been saying a lot of negative things about the film, but that's only because it had the potential to be so much more. Despite its issues, I can't deny that Continental Drift is a lot of fun, and isn't that what counts? Nobody goes to Madagascar or Ice Age flicks for substance over comedy and adventure, which is a truth that applies even to myself. It isn't my favorite entry in the franchise, but I can definitely see myself sitting down to watch this again in the not-too-distant future. At this point, I've seen the first two films far more times than I care to count, and that was before my two year old had a chance to fall in love with the pre-historic herd. They were fun and funny; movies I could turn off my brain and just relax and have a good time with. Still, after years of seeing the first three feel good Ice Age flicks, I needed a new adventure to come along and entertain me, and Continental Drift fits the bill. It's entertaining enough to have me forgive it for its shortcomings, and although it doesn't live up to its predecessor, I wouldn't say it's a 'lesser' Ice Age film overall, especially when compared to the first two entries. Much like myself, fans of the franchise will likely love much of what it has to offer, and if you have kids at home, there's no question that they'll get a kick out of it.
This 1080p, AVC encoded transfer (2.40:1) is absolutely stunning, making this unquestionably the best looking Ice Age film on the format to date. We all know how nice animation looks in high-def, but this film has an incredible amount of detail that went into every frame of every scene, and it's all reproduced flawlessly with vibrancy and depth. Contrast is immaculate, colors leap off the screen, and there's nothing in the way of digital anomalies for me to complain about. There's no edge enhancement, digital noise reduction is obviously a non issue due to the digital source, and there's no noise to speak of from compression. I think the locations in Dawn of the Dinosaurs were far more appealing, but that doesn't make this any less reference quality.
Ice Age comes home once again with an impressive 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. This release faithfully reproduces the mix I heard in theaters with gusto. Dialogue is always clean and easy to understand no matter what crazy action sequence is happening on screen, and the surrounds are loud and proud during any sequence that utilizes them (which is quite a few). Not only is the directional sound field better than 'just average' whenever the action picks up, the LFE turned out to be an impressively bombastic experience as well. My lone complaint is that I wish animated flicks such as this one had a bit more to offer when it comes to environmental sound effects during quieter scenes, but overall the audio presentation on this release is fantastic.
-Party with a Pirate Mode - Meh. Turn this on and Squint, the half-nuts rabbit from Gutt's crew, will occasionally pop up to provide us with some silly remarks. It can sync up with your iPad and apparently provide you with some goodies there, but those activities won't appeal but to the youngest of children... and do you want your kids fooling around with your iPad? Probably not.
-Sign Along - This is a nice inclusion - Two deaf actors (including Sean Berdy) appear in the lower right hand portion of the screen and provide sign subtitles. It would be nice to see this incorporated on more releases, and not just for children films either.
-Ice Age: The Story So Far - Pretty self explanatory, this is a nine and a half minute take on the series up to this point.
-Missing Links - These 'missing links' are two deleted scenes told through storyboard animatics.
-Through a Pirate's Spyglass - This is a two-part making of featurette, and chimes in at nearly twenty six minutes. The first part deals with the voice acting, whereas the second focuses on how the new pirate crew went from concept to 'reality'.
-Granny and the Stink of the Sloths - Another behind-the-scenes featurette that covers that making of Sid's sloth family.
-Whale of a Tale: Drifts, Rifts, Beasties and Myths - This film is loosely based on Homer's Odyssey, and even takes certain scientific facts into consideration in regards to the movement of the Earth's plates and pre-historic creatures, and that's precisely what this featurette covers. It's interesting to see where a lot of inspiration with culled from, but I'm not exactly sure any of their research actually shows on screen, as they take pretty large liberties in each aspect of the film's conceptual design.
-Scrat Got Your Tongue? - This featurette focuses solely on the evolution of Scrat over the last decade.
-The Scratist - Scrat clips put to black and white as an homage to The Artist.
-Shimmy Shake Music Section - The music selection on this release includes - Gutt's Sing Along Shanty Shimmy Shake, We Are (Extended), The Wanted - Chasing the Sun, and The Sid Shuffle.
Also included are theatrical trailers and sneak peeks at other films. It's a pretty decent package overall, but only if you're a kid. I do appreciate that there's a lot of family friendly featurettes that everyone can enjoy, but it's sort of sad to see no sign of a commentary.
Although Dawn of the Dinosaurs nearly brought the series to its full potential, Ice Age - Continental Drift just wasn't able to live up to the standards set by its predecessor. There's still plenty of action and adventure, but the scale has been reduced to a cat and mouse game on the high seas. Still, this is classic Ice Age through and through - Sid is still hilariously stupid, Manny and Diego are always witty and have an intriguing source of inner-strength, while Ellie and Peaches make for a decent mother-daughter team. Peter Dinklage is fantastic as the villain, and Jennifer Lopez does well as the feisty Shira. Furthermore, the A/V presentation on this release is immaculate, and there's plenty of special features that the kids are sure to enjoy (although it would have been nice to have some of the standard features adults have come to expect from Blu-ray). Recommended.