‘Ice Age: Continental Drift’

Main characters in Fox's cartoon Ice Age: Continental DriftThe “Ice Age” cartoons have lasted longer than anyone might have guessed when the first one arrived a decade ago. The original film was amiable prehistoric fun though with sharp slapstick and deft one-liners. Somehow Fox’s Blue Sky Studios has managed to produce three fairly decent sequels.

The latest one, “Ice Age: Continental Drift,” has the look of a swan song with the seismic upheavals and Global Warming the Early Years breaking up not only the whole IA gang but the ice world in which the characters exist.

It’s a tribute to directors Steve Martino and Michael Thurmeier that “Continental Drift” maintains series’ whimsical ways as well as it does. True, the gags aim more than ever at younger family members and every now and then the slapstick feels a tad forced.

Writers Michael Berg and Jason Fuchs have repopulated the Ice Age world with a number of new characters to take some of the burden off the original trio, Manny the affable though often perplexed woolly mammoth (Ray Romano), the not-so-ferocious saber-tooth tiger Diego (Denis Leary) and Sid the goofy sloth (John Leguizamo).

These new characters include a motley crew of animal pirates, not the most inspired choice given all the Pirates of the Caribbean movies we’ve slugged our way through. Nonetheless, Peter Dinklage has fun voicing the pirate villain, an ape pirate king with bad teeth, and Diego finally gets a love interest in Shira, a white tiger voiced by Jennifer Lopez.

Prehistoric squirrel Scrat in Fox animated film Ice Age 4In the film’s opening minutes, Scrat, the prehistoric squirrel, in his endless pursuit of that prized acorn, manages to dive down to the earth’s core and start a catastrophic breakup of the globe’s original land mass. Thus Manny, Diego and Sid — and Sid’s granny (Wanda Sykes) — find themselves on drifting ice that separates them from the rest of their gang.

But Manny remains determined to get back to his mate Ellie (Queen Latifah) and their now-teenage daughter Peaches (Keke Palmer, who also sings the end-credits song “We Are”).

The odyssey of Ellie and Peaches to find safety in a rapidly crumbling world along with Peaches’ attempt to curry favor with the cool teen mammoths (voiced by rappers Drake and Nicki Minaj along with “Glee” cheerleader Heather Morris) is mostly filler material.

All the real action takes place on the high seas where storms, a tornado, those pesky pirates and even sirens out of Homer (this is perhaps more of a stretch than the poor cartoon can take) conspire to thwart the heroes from returning to their families.

The animation especially the scenes of catastrophic destruction that turn the Ice World into one big thrill ride is perhaps the best in the series. And the voice actors have lost none of the wit or charm that brightened the very first film.

So “Continental Drift” is a fine swan song, if that’s what this turns out to be. And families and animation fans have an embarrassment of riches these days as “Continental Drift” now joins DreamWorks’ “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted,” which is the best of that particular series, and Pixar’s “Brave” in the multiplexes.

Opened: July 13, 2012 (20th Century Fox)

Production companies: Blue Sky Studios

Cast: Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, Queen Latifah, Peter Dinklage, Jennifer Lopez, Wanda Sykes, Keke Palmer
Directors: Steve Martino, Michael Thurmeier
Screenwriters: Michael Berg, Jason Fuchs
Producers: John C. Donkin, Lori Forte

Executive producers: Chris Wedge, Carlos Saldanha
Director of photography: Renato Falcao
Music: John Powell
Editors: James Palumbo, David Ian Salter
PG rating, 88 minutes