Letter From The Editor - Issue 58 - August 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
August 2012

Ice Age: Continental Drift

Driftwood

'Ice Age: Continental Drift' shows a franchise on its last legs

Ice Age: Continental Drift
20th Century Fox
Director: Steve Martino and Mike Thurmeier
Screenplay: Michael Berg and Jason Fuchs
Starring: The voices of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, Jennifer Lopez, Peter Dinklage, Queen Latifah, Keke Palmer, Drake, Seann William Scott and Wanda Sykes
Rated PG / 1 hour, 28 minutes
(out of four)

If you listen closely, you can hear the distinctive sound of the bottom of a barrel being scraped. For that we can thank the good people of Blue Sky Animation and 20th Century Fox, who are trying desperately to get every last speck of life out of their Ice Age franchise.

The sad result is Ice Age: Continental Drift, which barely even tries to hide the fact that it has no remaining story ideas and no real reason to exist. Its laziness is so transparent, it almost seems like a cry for help from the cast and crew. "Please stop contractually obliging us to make more of these movies."

That the well is bone-dry is just as apparent to them as it is to us. If Continental Drift weren't part of an established brand, and didn't have such highly paid voice talent, it would have gone straight to DVD and that would have been the end of it. This is 88 minutes of filmmakers killing time, rushing from half-baked plot point to half-baked plot point. How lazy is it? Well, the opening sequence is actually a short film that I first saw two years ago. (Note: I'm not sure whether or not that short was made with the intention of being part of Continental Drift, which is certainly possible. Regardless, it seems rather redundant to include it.)

But no, it gets even lazier. The whole movie is built on a laughably flimsy excuse for a story. Check this out. OK, so we've reunited with the whole gang - Diego (Denis Leary), Sid (John Leguizamo) and Manny (Ray Romano), along with Manny's wife Ellie and their daughter, Peaches. Then the icy patch of land where they make their home cracks in half, separating Manny from his family. And the rest of the movie is about Manny trying to get back to them.

That's it. That's the entire idea. Some ice randomly breaks, with Manny on one side and his family on the other. Somehow, this is the basis for a full-length feature film. The mind boggles. The brainstorming session in the writers' room couldn't have lasted longer than five minutes.

The breakup of the continent isn't even treated as a cataclysmic event, which might make the storyline justifiable. No, it's just a mechanical plot intrusion designed by lazy writers to give them some superficial justification for a movie.

There are a few half-developed story threads here and there to fill time, but they're treated with the same apathy. A) Peaches (Keke Palmer) - eager to revolt against her father's overprotective tendencies - develops a crush on the hip and rebellious Ethan (Drake). B) Diego falls for a female saber-toothed tiger. C) Sid is left to take care of his seemingly senile grandmother (voiced by Wanda Sykes). And D) Our three heroes get involved with pirates, a crew led by the odious Captain Gutt (Peter Dinklage).

But those subplots aren't handled with any more care or subtlety than the central one. Each resolves itself with mechanical proficiency.

The pirate subplot is actually the most disappointing thing about Continental Drift - and I say that because it's the film's only actual idea. It's the one area that feels like it could be a movie in and of itself, but it's treated only as a way to get from A to B. Manny, Diego and Sid are captured at sea by Gutt and Co., miraculously escape, then of course run into their former captors in the third act. That is all. The thing is, there's a real chance for these sequences to breathe life into the proceedings, if only the filmmakers would have allowed them to. There are countless ways to utilize that particular villain with these particular mismatched protagonists. Good writers could have a field day with that.

But there seems to be no interest - by anyone - to put forth that kind of creative effort.

Despite its longevity, Ice Age has never been one of the stronger animated franchises out there, but it's always had a decent amount of fun with its historical backdrop. The way the movies have allowed themselves to playfully fool around with history in broad, often absurd strokes has been one of the series' saving graces. But even in that regard, this fourth entry seems disinterested. Although there is one great moment early on, when Sid is explaining to a peripheral character what exactly happened in the last movie, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs: "We fought dinosaurs in the Ice Age. It didn't make any sense, but it sure was exciting!"

A fantastic one-liner in a movie sadly devoid of much inspiration otherwise. On that note, maybe the one way to save the franchise - and I'm not advocating saving this franchise, believe me - is to just go all the way and throw logic completely out the window. For each new movie, just toss the characters into a new historical era. Or present day, even. Maybe that would be just the creative shot in the arm the filmmakers so obviously need.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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