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ice_age_4_continental_drift-wideI loved “The Longest Daycare,” the Simpson’s short that plays before Ice Age. It’s a funny, gently paced thriller for kids with jokes that parents and film geeks will love. In fact I wanted more of that and less of “Ice Age: Continental Drift.” The main feature is nicely animated but is saddled with a story so by-the-book it feels like it would have been old hat even in the ice age.

The movie begins when Ice Age regular, the saber-toothed squirrel Scrat’s efforts to protect his only possession—his prized acorn—lead to the great Continental Drift. As the earth shifts and breaks apart woolly mammoth Manny (Ray Romano), Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo) and Diego the sarcastic smilodon (Dennis Leary) get separated from their families. Their journey to reunite with their kin puts them directly into the path of ape pirate Captain Gutt (Peter Dinklage) and his murderous band of misfits, including Shira (Jenifer Lopez), a female saber-toothed tiger who learns the meaning of friendship and love.

Manny and friends are not aided by a lazy script which feels like it was run through the Cliche-O-Matic ™ Prehistoric Model. The continental divide device is novel, but the theme–family and friends mean everything–has been done before and better.

There are some funny sitcom gags at the beginning—Manny tells his daughter she’ll be allowed to go out with boys when “I’m dead plus three days to make sure I’m dead”—but may of the jokes in the main part of the film come out of nowhere and feel tacked on. In the middle of the great land divide apropos of nothing a bird asks a mammoth if water tastes like boogers when they drink through their trunks. It has nothing to do with anything, except to insert a laugh to maintain audience interest.

It feels cheap and not nearly as sophisticated as the gags in any of the Pixar movies that are always organic to the story. There is one self-aware comment, however, that works. “We fought dinosaurs in the ice age,” says Sid, “it didn’t make sense, but it was fun.”

The voice work is by-the-book, with the exception of Peter Dinklage whose Caption Gutt brings some life to this museum piece.

He’s a horrifying and ghastly seadog (or, more rightly, ape), but in a good and kid friendly way. But the most horrifying thing about the “Ice Age” series is that they still have 20,000 years of history and sequel potential to go until Manny and company retire.

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