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Reel Time
New ‘Ice Age’ flick shows franchise has become a fossil
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Photos courtesy of BLUE SKY STUDIOS
Diego (Denis Leary) gives Granny (Wanda Sykes) a lift in “Ice Age: Continental Drift.”
“Ice Age: Continental Drift” is all about too much, too many and too little.

There is too much story crammed into this family-friendly film populated by too many characters and too many clichés from previous franchise installments. There is far too little charisma and variation on the original theme.

Of course, this is from an adult’s perspective – and all that could be forgiven if the film appealed to its target audience. Even children sense a problem, though: This franchise is getting as old as the fossilized remains of the various extinct beasts it depicts.

Prior to the new film, the most recent outing – 2009’s “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” – suffered from the same failing: then, like now, the filmmakers did not offer any new thematic material. However, that film did offer a solid storyline as well as an engaging new character in the form of Buckminster (voiced by Simon Pegg), a swashbuckling one-eyed weasel.

“Ice Age: Continental Drift” isn’t without new characters. In fact, the film introduces so many new characters it’s difficult to keep track of them all. Few seem particularly necessary and only one is fully developed: cantankerous Granny, (voiced by Wanda Sykes) proves to be the silver lining in an otherwise drab, gray cloud.

The underpinning of “Ice Age: Continental Drift” isn’t even all that solid. Scrat – the wacky saber-toothed squirrel whose obsession with collecting acorns has been a slapstick component of the franchise from the beginning – accidentally triggers a continental cataclysm. As shifting tectonic plates reshape the landscape, mammoth Manny (Ray Romano), sabre-toothed tiger Diego (Denis Leary) and sloth Sid (John Leguizamo) are separated from their friends and family when they are swept out to sea on an iceberg. They must fight to make their way back home in time to save their loved ones.

If that doesn’t seem far-fetched, throw in ragtag band of miscreant pirates led by Captain Gutt (Peter Dinklage), an orangutan.

Once again, in order to spark a “new” storyline, the writers had to invent a situation in which the main characters are separated. While showcasing the significance of the extended family concept is important to the franchise, it seems awfully forced this time around.

In addition to the pirate set-up, subplots include a bit on teenage rebelliousness featuring Peaches (Keke Palmer), the daughter of Manny and Ellie (Queen Latifah); Sid and Granny’s relationship; and a love interest for Diego in the form of sabre-toothed cat Shira (Jennifer Lopez).

That’s a lot of interwoven story threads for kids to assimilate.

In most cases, the background stories don’t really do anything to propel the main plot. In the case of the pirates, the script exploits needless malevolence instead of focusing on the heroes’ struggle with the uncontrollable forces of nature. Movies don’t always need a villain – they just need conflict.

The film’s core characters remain as likeable as they have always been, but their personalities have become static: Manny is the doting father figure, Sid the chatty-but-sweet buffoon and Diego the cynical but sympathetic tamed savage. Other returning characters have similar appeal, but there is no risk-taking here in terms of character development.

And as jumbled as it is, the film’s script doesn’t take chances either. No surprises, no plot twists – just a predictable, albeit long-winded, journey toward a conventional conclusion.

Of course, kids won’t notice most of these imperfections. They will watch “Ice Age: Continental Drift” gleefully, a perfect summertime escape.

Chances are, though, once the final credits roll and they step back out into the sunlight, those kids will probably forget about Manny, Diego and Sid – at least until Hollywood starts hyping the next installment.
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