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Ice Age drifts to a slow death
Ice Age 4 Bake
From left, Manny, voiced by Ray Romano, Diego, voiced by Denis Leary, Sid, voiced by John Leguizamo, Granny, voiced by Wanda Sykes and Shira, voiced by Jennifer Lopez are seen in a scene from the animated film, “Ice Age: Continental Drift.”

‘Ice Age: Continental Drift’

Starring: Ray Romano, Denis Leary, John Leguizamo, Wanda Sykes, Jennifer Lopez, Peter Dinklage, Aziz Ansari
Rated: PG
Runtime: 1 hour, 34 minutes
Bottom line: First five minutes is the best part of the movie

How do you know a movie is mediocre? When the five minute short that precedes it offers more ingenuity, complexity, and development than the 94-minute feature film.

“The Simpsons: The Longest Daycare” is being shown before “Ice Age: Continental Drift,” and it reminds us of how smart, relevant and entertaining “The Simpsons” once were.

The short places Maggie in daycare, but it really takes aim at the American educational system. Maggie has to go through a metal detector before she enters. She is quickly tested and placed in a track with a bunch of paste-eating kids who have obviously received no nurturing at home, then she spends the rest of the story coping with a bully.

The short doesn’t just beat an agenda, though. Maggie transcends this horrible situation in a way that will likely bring tears to your eyes. The screening audience applauded and cheered afterward.

“The Longest Daycare” is nothing less than beautiful and brilliant.

Then the feature begins, and we drift into mediocrity faster than the Arctic ice cap is melting. The audience did not applaud at the end of “Continental Drift.”

At this point, the formula for an “Ice Age” movie is painfully predictable.

First, Manny (Ray Romano) will have a family crisis. He has fretted in previous movies over being the last woolly mammoth, needing to find a mate and waiting for his first child to be born.

Now, Manny and Ellie’s (Queen Latifah) offspring, Peaches (Keke Palmer), is a teenager. Ever a franchise that aims for the utterly expected, Manny worries about his little girl growing up and getting into trouble.

Second, force Manny, Diego (Denis Leary), and Sid (John Leguizamo) to flee from a geological catastrophe caused by Scrat’s obsession with acorns.

20th Century Fox released a short called “Scrat’s Continental Crack-up” in 2010. That short is now the beginning of “Continental Drift.” How’s that for fresh material?

Scrat’s acorn falls to the Earth’s core, and he ends up causing the continents to split apart from Pangea, the unified land mass that once preceded the current configuration of continents. This continental drift separates Manny from Ellie and Peaches and puts all the animals in jeopardy.

Third, Manny, Diego and Sid must encounter colorful new characters. This part of the formula is particularly essential since the main characters are about as bland as it gets.

“Continental Drift” doesn’t fail completely on this step, but it doesn’t equal the previous films, either. The second movie was saved by Ellie and her possum brothers, Crash (Seann William Scott) and Eddie (Josh Peck), and the third by Buck (Simon Pegg), a swashbuckling weasel.

Here, we meet a whole crew of animals living like pirates. They terrorize the seas in a ship made of ice, led by Captain Gutt (Peter Dinklage), a bloodthirsty orangutan.

Despite some fine voice work by Dinklage and others, none of the pirate animals is especially memorable. The only character that has truly funny lines is Sid’s senile, spunky Granny (Wanda Sykes).

Kids who already know the series will enjoy the movie. Adults, however, might want to have a coffee beforehand to stay awake.

The “Ice Age” series has always been mostly for the kids, and that’s especially true of this entry. My son was still quoting the movie days after the screening, yet I had mostly forgotten it by the time we walked out to the car.

Four movies in, Manny, Diego and Sid are almost unnecessary to the franchise. I certainly wouldn’t complain if I didn’t have to listen to Ray Romano’s voice again.

Scrat’s charm is pretty much gone, too. He is little more than a spastic, nerve-grating distraction, except for a final sequence that puts him in a clever situation.

“Continental Drift” isn’t quite as good as “Madagascar 3,” which was itself rather ho-hum. Both franchises have given us some fun times, but it’s time both became extinct.

Bottom line: Save it for a rental if your kids will let you.

Jeff Marker teaches film and literature at Gainesville State College. His reviews appear weekly in Get Out and online.

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