Voices of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo and Peter Dinklage • Directed by Steve Martino and Mike Thurmeier • Age restriction: PG • Releases 29 June
Everybody's favourite mammalian mob returns for a fourth instalment of the beloved Ice Age franchise – this time in a high-seas adventure complete with pirates, tsunamis and desert islands.
After nut-fiend squirrel Scrat causes the continental split, mammoth Manny (voiced by Ray Romano), sloth Sid (John Leguizamo) and sabre-tooth Diego (Denis Leary) find themselves pulled out to sea on a patch of ice with a stowaway on board – Sid's toothless, slightly unbalanced Granny (Wanda Sykes).
They are picked up by a cutthroat band of pirates, sailing the seas on a giant iceberg, led by the vicious ape Captain Gutt (voiced by Game of Thrones star Peter Dinklage) and his feline first-mate Shira (Jennifer Lopez). As Manny fights his way back to land to be reunited with his wife Ellie (Queen Latifah) and their rebellious teenage daughter Peaches (Keke Palmer), the gang must deal with mythical sea monsters, vengeful pirates and Granny's imaginary friend, Precious.
Ice Age: Continental Drift is a vast improvement on the film's third instalment, Dawn of the Dinosaurs, but despite the film's crazy premise (really, an iceberg sailed by pirates?) it still feels like a half-hearted attempt to keep the money-spinning franchise going.
It's not that it's a bad or dull film – in fact, it keeps up a concerted effort to keep the fun rolling. It's just that we've seen it all before in three different iterations already – and our core trio of Manny, Diego and Sid, while still lovable, have lost much of their charm. And as we bounce between the land (where Ellie and Peaches are trying to lead the rest of the critters to safety from an approaching wall of gargantuan rock) and the sea, the cohesion starts to falter slightly – only regaining its step in the latter half of the film.
But at the film's core, the moral of family, friends – and having a herd to return to – stays strong. Manny and Ellie are dealing with Peaches' boy-mad teenage years, Sid's family returns just young enough to dump his unwanted grandmother on him, and Diego tries to convince Shira that she's better off with a real herd – and not a pack of pirates. The relationship between our mismatched band of mammals remains heart-warming, the resolution satisfying.
Continental Drift has an incredibly strong voice cast, with some powerful performances – from Dinklage as Gutt in particular, and the stalwart Romano as Manny. Sykes provides an energetic – if a little grating on the ears – performance as Granny. It's a wonderful piece of casting. On the flip side, Jennifer Lopez is bland and uninspiring as Shira – and while Drake and Nicki Minaj as the cool mammoths Ethan and Steffie is inspired, they don't seem to be making much of an effort either.
Of course – and as always – it's Scrat that steals the show: without uttering a single word. In fact, I'm about to start lobbying for a full-length Scrat movie... For me, the acorn-addicted squirrel is well worth the price of admission.
Visually, the animation on Continental Drift is strong as always. It's the small touches that make this Dreamworks film so special – the water on the animals' fur; the flecks of snow and the sheen on the ocean; the way Peaches' hair blows in the wind. It's also filmed in 3D – and for the most part, it's a pretty decent 3D film. But compared to the recently-released Madagascar 3, they hardly seem to be trying at all.
In all, a decent family film that will no doubt thrill kids and keep parents entertained enough for an hour-and-a-half, but is a far cry from the very first film. By now, you know if you're an Ice Age fan or not — if you are, give it a whirl.