SCRAT the sabre-toothed squirrel’s pursuit of his beloved acorns has cataclysmic consequences for an entire continent in the latest chapter of the hugely popular Ice Age series.
Directed with vim by Steve Martino and Michael Thurmeier, Continental Drift finds the computer-animated characters all at sea as they race to reunite the disjointed herd.
It’s a colourful romp with a generous glaze of mawkish sentiment to hammer home the importance of the family unit in times of emotional upheaval.
There are moments in the fourth film when screenwriters Michael Berg and Jason Fuchs seem to be running short of ideas, and are happy to tread water before the next rollicking set piece.
Thankfully, the running time is trim so lulls are brief and flickers of boredom are invariably quenched by another riotous interlude with accident-prone Scrat as he makes his way to a fabled sunken island full of untold riches.
The film opens with the sabre-toothed squirrel (voiced by Chris Wedge) plummeting to the centre of the earth, where he accidentally sets off a tectonic chain reaction that threatens to destroy the ice-laden paradise the animals call home.
Disaster looms and Manny the woolly mammoth (Ray Romano) clashes with his teenage daughter Peaches (Keke Palmer), who is at that difficult age when any parental concern causes intense embarrassment.
“I’m trying to protect you. That’s what fathers do,” he pleads.
“Well I wish you weren’t my father,” replies Peaches coldly, shortly before Manny, Diego the sabre-toothed tiger (Denis Leary), Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo) and Sid’s 80-year-old grandmother (Wanda Sykes) are swept out to sea on an ice floe.
While Manny’s soul mate Ellie (Queen Latifah) shepherds the land animals towards a bridge that is the only escape route from the rapidly-collapsing island, her husband and his chums drift helplessly away and come under attack from sea-faring pirates led by prehistoric ape Captain Gutt (Peter Dinklage).
Romance unexpectedly blossoms between Diego and one of Gutt’s salty sea-beasts – sabre-toothed tigress Shira (Jennifer Lopez) – and she must decide where her loyalties lie.
Ice Age 4: Continental Drift unfolds at a brisk pace and action sequences are packed with high-velocity splats to keep little ones giggling with glee.
Familiar themes of teenage rebellion, friendship and self-sacrifice are woven gently into a script laden with heart-warming sentiment, but scant originality.
It’s difficult to see where the characters can go from here, but where there’s the scent of box office lucre, another sequel is always a possibility.