Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Ice Age: Continental Drift - Prehistoric Frolic

The loveable prehistoric gang is back - Manny, the mammoth; Sid, the sloth; and Diego, the sabre-toothed cat (not tiger, okay?)  Manny (Ray Romano) is having a hard time dealing with his 13 year old daughter Peaches (Kiki Palmer) who’s besotted with good looking Ethan who in turn is mostly dismissive of Peach’s attention. Dad Manny further cramps his daughter’s style whenever Peaches flirts with Ethan.

Meanwhile, the animals in their village are unaware that elsewhere, Scrat, the acorn-loving squirrel, is triggering the rupture of the supercontinent called Pangaea (a behemoth single landmass that existed during the late Paleozoic era, forming about 300 million years ago). With Scrat’s rabid pursuit of his acorn, he breaks the Pangaea into separate partitions, each one eventually drifting to a particular location across the Panthalassa – the name given to the single ocean that existed alongside the single earth mass of Pangaea. This continental drift upsets the seemingly harmonious environment of our prehistoric animals.

Map of Pangaea with modern continents outlined, supporting Alfred Wegener's theory of continental drift.

While Peaches tells Manny how much she hates him, the icy ground breaks. The floating crack drifts away, taking Manny (the mammoth), Diego (the cat), and Sid (the sloth) to the deeper recesses of the ocean. And yes, Sid’s grumpy Granny (Wanda Sykes) inadvertently joins the adventurous trio for the ride. Meanwhile, Peaches and her mom Ellie (Queen Latifah) have been instructed to head to the land bridge where Manny could find them – whatever happens. But most of the land mass have shifted, chunks have sunken, terrains have been changed, and survival is in the lap of the gods.

While adrift in the wide tempestuous ocean, Manny and the gang encounter the fierce and imposing Captain Gutt (Peter Dinklage), a giant pirate ape, who wanders the high seas with his ragtag minions – in a spooky glacier ship populated by weird looking animals who shiver under Gutt’s commands. Shira (Jennifer Lopez), a beautiful sabre-toothed cat, is Gutt’s right-hand "man". Our protagonists refuse to join the captain’s crew, making them convenient target for Gutt's vehemence. During the inevitable skirmish between the opposing forces, Shira is abandoned by Captain Gutt. And time is running out for Manny and his friends.

Will Manny ever find Ellie and Peaches again? What if the land bridge has been eradicated by the shift? Moreover, will Shira ever learn to trust Diego (Denis Leary) who’s gradually falling for the reluctant lady sabre-tooth?

What is there  to tell about  a group of animals that has basked in blockbuster spotlight some 10 years ago? A lot, actually. It helps that the narrative focuses on a particular "strained" relationship (of Manny and his rebellious daughter Peaches) other than randomly expounding on many other stray tales. Their story pieces the film together so that, most of the time, the audience becomes cognizant of a specific narrative goal where our protagonists are concerned. It 's really the strong storytelling prowess that makes this 4th installment a hilarious, albeit heart-warming spectacle. A core component to this is in its accentuation of the ties that bind. A family that disagrees doesn't necessarily mean there's less affection among its members.

The weaker link in this adventure yarn could be its nemesis. Despite his ferocious growl and defiant machinations, Captain Gutt is wanting of gravitas. This is a curiosity because he could even move mountains, single-handedly chipping ice off to produce another pirate ship. But Gutt just doesn't linger in your psyche. He seems to be more bark than bite. He is easily forgettable. This could be attributable to his lithe animation, i.e. his limber movement, making him less feral - and feral is what we require from our adversaries, isn't it?

Directors Steve Martino and Mike Thurmeier's film peppers their canvas with hilarious creatures that intermittently cruise through the story like a swift, pleasant whiff of hilarity - like Crash and Eddie (the "stupid" squirrels); Sid's ill-tempered Granny and her pet whale named Precious; the crafty sirens who lure seafarers into their clam trap; the adorable but deadly hyraxes who understand Sid's gibberish; the eternally obsessive Scrat (whose parallel story line allows Manny and the gang's adventure to float above its occasional meandering into silliness). 

Initially, I seriously doubted the film's content and entertainment quotient. After all, its hard to squeeze out juice from a "pulp" that's been harvested 3 times over. But I was wrong. The fruit of the story has re-acquired delectable flesh and considerable juice. Undoubtedly, this is fun stuff! Who would have thought?

Hard-headed Peaches and his small friend Louis (a molehog).

Diego and Sid

Sid, the sloth, looks while his Granny takes her first bath in years!

Pirate ape Captain Gutt, (center), Shira, and the pirate creatures.

Jennifer Lopez voices Shira

Josh Peck  voices Eddie

Sloth (above and below)

A sabre-toothed squirrel (above and below) bridges a 150 million year gap in fossil record, thus Scrat's inclusion into the film's coterie of hilarious creatures.

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