We go to movies presumably to enjoy a good story. Yes, the writing is important, as are the acting, cinematography, score, set design — all the myriad things that must work together in service of the story. They are but tools intended for a larger purpose. Of course, too often one or more tools fail or the filmmakers put too much emphasis on them and forget the story altogether.
That seems to be the case with Ice Age: Continental Drift, the fourth installment of the Ice Age franchise by Blue Sky Studios. Terrific computer animation in digital 3D renders crisp detail in the animals’ fur and performs a virtuoso dance of light and shadow on ice and water.
But the movie feels overstuffed with way too many barely developed characters. The story could easily have been cut by a third and its building blocks could have been more artfully arranged. The film feels workmanlike, adequate but lacking zest. While the earlier installments had the obligatory subtext about doing the right thing and the importance of working together, the lessons in Continental Drift feel forced. Yes, kids, it’s important to obey your parents, value your friends, and not get caught up in the wrong crowd — good lessons all, but they come with the subtlety of an elbow to the ribs.
As with the first three Ice Ages, there are plenty of sight gags and pratfalls along the way with the usual gross-out jokes. And as always, Scrat the proto rat is the best part of these stories, with his Gilligan-like ability to blow a sure thing and a single-mindedness that makes Wile E. Coyote look positively ambivalent.