Ice Age: Continental Drift isn’t a bad movie. In fact, it’s better than I expected. The animation is vibrant and just the right level of detailed. Directors Steve Martino and Mike Thurmeier have a way with angles, always choosing just the right perspectives to make the pictures pop and the action frenzied. A hurried sense of danger runs like an undercurrent through the film, and the plot works fairly well as an adventure story. Unfortunately, what Continental Drift lacks, apart from a single wow moment, are laughs and moments of joy.
The Ice Age series has always worked best when it balances good one-liners and zany shenanigans with chaotic excitement. Continental Drift makes the occasional joke, but none of the humor feels particularly fresh or memorable. As a result, the tone is a bit off. Too many quips are mailed in, and too much dialogue is earmarked for proving a moral lesson or advancing the story arc. That’s not to say the premise doesn’t work. It does. It’s just absent that likeable quality that made fans want to return to the first installment. If the goal was to create a watchable hour-and-a-half of material, Continental Drift is clearly a success, but if the goal was to create a product anyone older than ten would want to watch again, the film has to be considered a disappointment.
The story begins with our old friend Scrat, who, not surprisingly, is hunting for acorns. Due mostly to incompetence, his misadventure winds up taking him to the Earth’s core where all his shuffling sets off a series of earthquakes that rip Pangaea into the continents we know today. Manny (Ray Romano), Sid (John Leguizamo) and Diego (Denis Leary) all wind up on a floating iceberg, while their family and friends seek shelter on one of the continents. Promises to see each other again are shouted as the makeshift raft drifts into the unknown, and our heroes set off to meet new characters and engineer schemes to get back home.
The ocean is a new playground for the Ice Age animators, and in pirate ships, abandoned islands and ferocious animals, Continental Drift finds inspiration. It’s during this stretch the film overtly works. We’re introduced to the deadly Captain Gutt (wonderfully voiced by Peter Dinklage) and his band of goofy pirates. One-by-one, he saved each of their lives. In return, they swore their allegiances, and now, he’d like to add Manny, Sid and Diego to his crew. They refuse and destroy his ship in the process, turning from potential friends to hated, bumbling foes in an instant. Eventually, our three heroes’ quest to find land and Gutt’s promise for vengeance intersect, creating a somewhat interesting third act that’s arguably worth the price of admission.
Coming up with a reason for a sequel is always difficult. Making a fourth installment seem worthwhile is borderline impossible. Oddly, Continental Drift actually accomplishes that task. Once Manny and company are set adrift, it’s obvious there’s enough action and adventure to warrant a new film. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t follow through with the easy part and write enough jokes to make the experience fun. Since the adventure isn’t quite adventurous enough on its own, there’s just not enough here to call Continental Drift a good movie. It’s just passable, which might be worth it to hardcore fans but won’t be enough to satisfy the rest of us.
There’s already been talk of a fifth installment. Given how well the film is performing, I think it’s likely we will get another Ice Age movie. After watching Continental Drift, I’m not opposed to that idea. I just hope to Scrat everyone involved makes a concerted effort to have a little more fun while making it. Theatergoers need reasons to smile and jokes to laugh at. An animated movie has to be more than pretty exciting, and this one just isn’t.