What kind of miserable website would write words, around this time last year, suggesting that Ice Age 4 would be “entirely competent”, with the implication that that’s all it would really be? Whoever wrote them on that awful Den Of Geek website has some words to eat. Because not only is Ice Age 4 arguably the best in the franchise yet, it’s also, a little surprisingly perhaps (given that it’s a fourth movie in a franchise, turned around on a strict cycle), turned out to be thoroughly, thoroughly entertaining family blockbuster.
The film kicks off by playing the franchise’s ongoing trump card, Scrat the acorn-hunting squirrel. Scrat’s always been a highlight, and he is again here, with his adventures harking back to the likes of Chuck Jones’ and Fred Quimby’s Tom & Jerry shorts. When we first meet him here, his search for a nut takes him to the core of the Earth, and he puts into motion the events that cause, er, the continents of the planet to be formed.
This splintering up of land masses doesn’t turn out to be good news for the returning company of characters. After a fairly slow reintroduction to them all, the land literally splits them apart, with mammoth Manny and his friends, sabretooth tiger Diego and sloth Sid, on one side. On the other? Well, chief amongst them are Manny’s daughter, Peaches, and his wife, Ellie.
Let’s deal with the weaker parts of the film first, then. When the narrative focuses on Peaches, her teen romance angst, and the need to teach her lessons about the importance of family, Ice Age 4 feels like a bunch of homogenous animated flicks. Furthermore, that tremendous opening sketch aside, it does take a little while for the film to fully kick into life. Its core narrative is hardly radical stuff, either, as Manny and his friends journey back to be reunited with the others. We’ve seen that sort of thing many times before.
Turns out, though, so have the filmmakers. And at the point where Manny does a line lifted straight out of Last Of The Mohicans, your ears can’t help but prick up. By the time the credits have rolled, there have been welcome tips of the hat to other movies, and worked into the excellent finale there’s a musical tribute of sorts to Die Hard, too. All very much appreciated.
Mostly, it turns out that when the story is following Manny’s side of the story, the film is exceptionally good fun. Fortunately, that’s where it spends most of its time. It makes for a really very good ensemble comedy for starters (no character dominates the screen time here), partly thanks to sharp gags being worked into the script, but also thanks to the splendid slapstick that’s regularly and effectively deployed. Wherever you sit in the target demographic, Ice Age 4 at the very least has solid, regular chortles waiting for you. Once or twice, you might notice them turning into guffaws.
Its new characters are, generally, enormous fun too. Shira (we like to think she was named in a miss-spelled tribute to Masters Of The Universe, but maybe not) isn’t given much to do, but Sid’s gran (voiced by Wanda Sykes) is quite brilliant, as is the wonderful pirate, Captain Gutt (voiced by Game Of Thrones’ Peter Dinklage!)
For this is the kind of film Ice Age 4 is: it works hard, and it’ll throw anything at you, if it thinks it’ll entertain you. That’s why you get some great action sequences, an unwillingness to resist any half-decent joke, some pirates, an army of creatures, and boats shaped out of icebergs. Heck, it even gets away with including a song.
And every time you think it’s about to run out of energy? In comes Scrat. He’s held back quite a lot this time, with his mini-adventures joining up one or two dots of the narrative. But when you do get to see him, he’s an absolute treat as always. Credit here for not overplaying him. And come the end of the film? Well, we won’t spoil it, but you can’t help but be craving a lot more of cinema’s finest squirrel.
On a technical level, too, the film is a real triumph. We’ve never seen water done anywhere near this well in an animated movie before (above or below the surface), and the landscapes and waterscapes are frequently held in long shots, just to give you a chance to fully appreciate them, which you inevitably will. When the Ice Age franchise first started out, technically it was some way behind much of the competition. Not any more. The film looks outstanding. We saw it in 2D, incidentally, but it’s clear that effort has been made this time around to include proper 3D moments. Unlike Ice Age: Dawn Of The Dinosaurs, this one has clearly been designed with some 3D in mind.
It may not be a perfect beast, and the film is still a little too slavish to some of the less interesting conventions of a family movie. But Ice Age 4: Continental Drift was always conceived and made as a piece of family blockbuster entertainment. That’s something it absolutely is, and by keeping a firm sense of fun very much at the forefront of things, the team behind it have delivered something worth cherishing: an immensely good fun summer movie, warts and all. It might not win bags of awards, but for a family movie, you most certainly get your money’s worth.