Friday, July 22, 2016

Ice Age: Collision Course — Thawed too soon

Ice Age: Collision Course (2016) • View trailer 
Three stars. Rated PG, for no particular reason

By Derrick Bang

In theory, a 94-minute animated feature paced with the manic intensity of a 7-minute Warner Bros. cartoon must’ve seemed like a great idea.

In practice ... not so much.

The gang's all here: clockwise from left, Julian, Peaches, Ellie, Manny, Shira, Diego,
Granny, Sid, Crash and Eddie. As for what they're all staring at ... well, that would be
giving away too much!
This fifth (!) entry in the popular Ice Age series is relentless: a never-ending succession of hyper-paced slapstick, sight gags and one-liners, all of which overwhelm the gentle family-unity message that struggles to be heard amid the chaos. Watching this film rapidly becomes an endurance test, after which one is utterly overwhelmed and exhausted.

Additionally, the four credited writers — Aubrey Solomon, Michael J. Wilson, Michael Berg and Yoni Brenner — have augmented the already enormous ensemble cast with a wealth of new characters. The result is total overload, to the detriment of several regular players, most notably Diego, the sabertooth voiced by Denis Leary. He contributes absolutely nothing to the narrative, and his recently acquired gal pal Shira (Jennifer Lopez) fares even worse.

It’s all too much. As the third act introduced yet another set of blissed-out newcomers, shepherded by the fortune cookie-tongued Shangri Llama (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), Constant Companion and I glanced at each other and mouthed, Seriously?

If all concerned — co-directors Galen T. Chu and Mike Thurmeier, and the aforementioned writers — are looking to kill this once-charming franchise, I can think of no better way. The tenderness and wit have been lost.

Everybody involved with 2002’s original Ice Age understood the importance of balance. The bulk of the story was fairly serious — disparate prehistoric creatures banding together for the common good — with the occasional silly one-liners limited to the slovenly Sid, the sloth (John Leguizamo). Machine-gun slapstick was the sole province of the frantic, twitchy Scrat, whose rodent quest for precious acorns served as brief madcap “bumpers” between the core story’s various acts.

This fifth entry is nothing but madcap bumpers. It’s soulless.

The prologue kicks off with Scrat, as has become tradition. This time, questing for yet another acorn, the buck-fanged squirrel/rat finds himself inside an extraterrestrial spaceship, long trapped within a massive hunk of ice. (Erich von Däniken was right!) After accidentally powering up and freeing the flying saucer, Scrat embarks on an outer space adventure that proves responsible for the creation of our entire solar system (celestial physics be damned).

Unfortunately, Scrat’s hijinks also hurl a massive meteor toward Earth ... and we all know what that means.

Intriguingly, so does Buck (Simon Pegg), the swashbuckling, Errol Flynn-esque weasel introduced in Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs. After discovering an other-worldly artifact — presumably left behind by the folks who arrived in that spaceship — Buck realizes that a meteor impact of such severity will destroy all life on Earth: on the surface, in the oceans, and within his subterranean, dinosaur-laden realm.

Thanks to an inner voice supplied by Neil deBuck Weasel (famed scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson, of course), Buck comes up with an improbable — but remotely feasible — salvation plan.

Meanwhile, the woolly mammoth Manny (Ray Romano) has been agonizing over daughter Peaches (Keke Palmer), and her impending marriage to boyfriend Julian (Adam Devine). This eager-beaver young mammoth has less discipline than an unrestrained frat boy, and he’s also a total klutz: factors that terrify the calm, cool and calculating Manny. As a protective father, nobody would be good enough for his little girl to begin with, and Julian merely validates all such concerns.

Manny’s better half, Ellie (Queen Latifah), is a bit more pragmatic ... but she’s equally unhappy after learning that, once hitched, Peaches and Julian intend to strike out on their own.

Sid, meanwhile, is feeling neglected. Everybody else has a honey-bunny, but the sloppy sloth remains unloved. Occasional waspish words of encouragement from his cantankerous Granny (Wanda Sykes) don’t help much.

Ongoing commentary comes from the gang’s resident Greek chorus: daredevil possums Crash and Eddie (Seann William Scott and Josh Peck), now accenting every comment, act or incident with their own snarky remarks and idiotic behavior.

Which is precisely the problem. The “Silly Squad” has, by this point, expanded to include Buck, Crash, Eddie, Sid, Granny, Julian and half a dozen lesser tag-alongs. And as if that weren’t enough, we get additional dramatic “tension” (not really) from a trio of aggressive dino-birds who follow Buck to the surface world: Gavin (Nick Offerman), Roger (Max Greenfield) and Gertie (Stephanie Beatriz).

Then too, some of the efforts at humor seem awfully desperate, such as Buck’s sudden parental devotion to a tiny pumpkin. What were the writers smoking that day?

Nor can we overlook the aforementioned Shangri Llama and his many acolytes in the, ah, unusual realm of Geotopia — don’t ask — most notably a fetching young sloth named Brooke. The latter is voiced by pop singer Jessie J, apparently on hand solely to deliver the bubblegum-style “My Superstar,” which signals the arrival of the Thank-God-It’s-Over end credits.

In fairness, this newest Ice Age installment looks and sounds terrific, as has been true of the entire series. The animation is lush and colorful, and the (now) dozens of voice actors are well suited to their characters. The various Scrat interludes are fall-on-the-floor hilarious, thanks to the increasingly clever ways in which the poor critter’s lunatic space escapades fuel events back on Earth. (My favorite: Scrat’s misadventures with the spaceship’s gravity controls.)

Buck’s introductory sequence is dazzling: a lengthy “continuous shot” that introduces the off-kilter weasel’s ongoing conflict with the dino-birds.

There’s no question that small children will love this film; it’s pitched directly toward their short-attention-span cortexes. But that’s setting the bar lamentably low. The Manny, Diego and Sid that I remember, from back in 2002, deserve much better.

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