It’s been a full decade since the original Ice Age hit theatres. Coming from the relatively unknown Blue Sky Studios, the film was a surprise hit. It featured a mix of heart and a good storytelling, which easily overcame the somewhat lackluster animation, to win over audiences. The second film in the franchise, The Meltdown, is best forgotten. Jumbled, unimaginative, and dull, it nevertheless did well enough to prevent the series from extinction. Film number three, Dawn Of The Dinosaurs, brought action, adventure, and even more fun to the screen making for a film different from the rest but still very good. So where does film four, Continental Drift, fit in the franchise?

Manny is being the stereotypical overprotective father to his now teenage daughter Peaches. When he embarrasses her in front of a cool boy she’s trying to impress they have a huge argument. A shift in the continents literally splits Manny, Diego, and Sid from the rest of civilization and they end up adrift at sea trying to find a way home. But an encounter with a band of prehistoric pirates could end their latest journey prematurely.

I have to be totally honest about my reaction to this film. About half way through it I completely lost interest. There’s nothing that wrong with it. There just isn’t a lot right either. It’s a bland, uninspired, unoffensive, unobjectionable, hour and a half at the movies.

The writers seemed to have phoned it in and just used stale cliches to fill in the plot for them. I can almost hear them pitching it. “Diego meets a female saber-toothed cat who works for the villain, and whatever, they’re going to end up together at the end so let’s not bother writing how, what’s for lunch?” “Peaches has a geeky little male best friend and there’s also a cool hunky boy who hardly notices her that she has the hots for… ohmygosh we all know who she’ll end up with so why bother showing the development, let’s cut out early.” Trite shortcuts are taken throughout the film and the banal writing just makes the film a bore to watch. Also of special note: there is a musical number in the film… If you need a bathroom break take it then. If you don’t need a break find some other excuse to leave the theatre for three minutes!

Visually, things aren’t much better. While the third movie had the benefit of a lusher environment, here they’re pretty much stuck with water and ice so I’ll cut them some slack there. But the character designs of the newcomers just aren’t that interesting. Like the story it’s not that they’re awful. They’re just a bit boring. Captain Gutt, the main antagonist of movie, is easily the best of the new bunch.

Luckily there are two bright spots.

First is the voice cast. Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, and Denis Leary as the three leads are as good as ever in these roles and despite the story issues it’s nice to hear them back up on the big screen. Queen Latifah and Keke Palmer (as Manny’s wife and daughter), while not coming close to outshining the stars, do the roles justice. Peter Dinklage as Gutt is a nice fit. Wanda Sykes, while definitely not one of my favorite voices in a film, does do a good job with Granny. Jennifer Lopez as Shira, and Drake as Ethan, and Nicki Minaj as some third character are all completely under utilized and here only so their names can be in the promotional material.

The second thing done right, as usual is Scrat. OK, he’s probably easy to write for and he has no lines at all. I get that! But he’s always the highlight of the film!

I don’t want to leave the wrong impression. This is a perfectly adequate film. It’s neither very bad nor very good. Unlike The Meltdown, the story is not a convoluted mess. It actually has a flow and structure — no matter how overused and vapid the pieces on that structure may be. It’s about as average a film as you could make. The kids will probably have a good time out with the family. But is average what we want to pay $10 a ticket to see? Blue Sky has done better in recent years with other properties and has more interesting things in the pipeline. Maybe it’s time we left the Ice Age behind so they could put all their efforts in to those ideas, because it feels like this franchise is just drifting now.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?

Ice Age: Continental Drift
20th Century Fox /Blue Sky Studios
July 13, 2012
94 minutes
Rated PG
directed by Steve Martino and Mike Thurmeier