While recent animated blockbusters have aimed to viewers of all ages starting with fantastical concepts and breathtaking visuals but tackling complex emotional issues along the way Ice Age: Continental Drift is crafted especially for the wee ones — and it works. Venturing back to prehistoric times once again the fourth Ice Age film paints broad strokes on the theme of familial relationships throwing in plenty of physical comedy along the way. The movie isn't that far off from one of the many Land Before Time direct-to-video sequels: not particularly innovative or necessary but harmless thrilling fun for anyone with a sense of humor. Unless they have a particular distaste for wooly mammoths the kids will love it.
Ice Age: Continental Drift continues to snowball its cartoon roster bringing back the original film's trio (Ray Romano as Manny the Mammoth Denis Leary as Diego the Sabertooth Tiger and John Leguizamo as Sid the Sloth) new faces acquired over the course of the franchise (Queen Latifah as Manny's wife Ellie) and a handful of new characters to spice things up everyone from Nicki Minaj as Manny's daughter Steffie to Wanda Sykes as Sid's wily grandma. The whole gang is living a pleasant existence as a herd with Manny's biggest problem being playing overbearing dad to the rebellious daughter. Teen mammoths they always want to go out and play by the waterfall! Whippersnappers.
The main thrust of the film comes when Scratch the Rat (whose silent comedy routines in the vein of Tex Avery/WB cartoons continue to be the series highlight) accidentally cracks the singular continent Pangea into the world we know today. Manny Diego and Sid find themselves stranded on an iceberg once again forced on a road trip journey of survival. The rest of the herd embarks to meet them giving Steffie time to realize the true meaning of friendship with help from her mole pal Louis (Josh Gad).
The ham-handed lessons may drag for those who've passed Kindergarten but Ice Age: Continental Drift is a lot of fun when the main gang crosses paths with a group of villainous pirates. (Back then monkeys rabbits and seals were hitting the high seas together pillaging via boat-shaped icebergs. Obviously.) Quickly Ice Age becomes an old school pirate adventure complete with maritime navigation buried treasure and sword fights. Gut (Peter Dinklage) an evil ape with a deadly... fingernail leads the evil-doers who pose an entertaining threat for the familiar bunch. Jennifer Lopez pops by as Gut's second-in-command Shira the White Tiger and the film's two cats have a chase scene that should rouse even the most apathetic adults. Hearing Dinklage (of Game of Thrones fame) belt out a pirate shanty may be worth the price of admission alone.
With solid action (that doesn't need the 3D addition) cartoony animation and gags out the wazoo Ice Age: Continental Drift is entertainment to enjoy with the whole family. Revelatory? Not quite. Until we get a feature length silent film of Scratch's acorn pursuit we may never see a "classic" Ice Age film but Continental Drift keeps it together long enough to tell a simple story with delightful flare that should hold attention spans of any length. Massive amounts of sugar not even required.
[Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox]
Walt Disney animation’s first foray into 3D ‘toon making isn’t just a technical triumph it thankfully also tells the clever story of Bolt (John Travolta). He’s a superstar TV canine who believes the superpowers he displays weekly on his series are for real --especially when it comes to the protection of his master and co-star Penny (Miley Cyrus). One day however the dog is accidentally shipped from his Hollywood soundstage to New York City. Lost alone and confused on the streets of the Big Apple Bolt is still living the show vowing to get to Penny who he believes has been kidnapped by the “green-eyed man.” And so he embarks on a cross-country journey to L.A. to save Penny. Along the way he is joined by an abandoned wily housecat Mittens (Susie Essman) and a TV-loving hamster Rhino (Mark Walton) who believes everything he sees on the tube is ALSO real. Of course Bolt is in for rude awakening when he finds out he is just a regular dog but he still needs to get to Penny -- even if it means she might not be there for him when he returns. Disney is not a studio that generally depends on superstar voices for their animated films but in casting Travolta and tween queen Cyrus they have scored a bullseye. Travolta’s Bolt is a delightful cross between the self-assured superstar and a pooch in denial. The actor doesn’t phone it in but instead creates an original and loveable dog that stands proudly in Disney’s large canon of canine greats. The action scenes created for Bolt’s TV series are lots of fun and the interactions with his traveling companions are choice. As Penny Cyrus is sympathetic sincere and she even gets to sing a duet with Travolta “I Thought I Lost You ” which she co-wrote. The show is nearly stolen though by comedian Susie Essman (Curb Your Enthusiasm) as Mittens -- a smart determined and emotionally wounded pet cat abandoned by her owners and forced to wander the streets alone. And by Mark Walton as the hilarious Rhino the obsessive fanboy hamster who rolls around in his ball. Walton is actually an animator in real life who happened to be so good at voicing Rhino during tests they just gave him the job. Disney vets Chris Williams and Byron Howard capably usher the venerable Disney label into the brave new world of 3D animation and the results are promising -- putting the audience right in the center of Bolt’s universe. The TV series action set pieces are particularly effective in using the technology. It’s not even necessary to see the film in 3D because the whole CG process has come a long way in a few short years and Bolt is one of the best looking most accomplished animated films in memory -- glasses or no glasses. Williams and Howard expertly blend humor pathos and blockbuster-style action scenes effortlessly giving “Bolt” an appeal beyond just the target kid demo.
One thing can be said about this Disney movie--it is certainly original. In a galaxy far far away we meet Experiment 626. Created illegally by a mad scientist named Jumba (voiced by David Ogden Stiers) this little blue alien--with four arms big ears and a very bad disposition--can't be reformed. The Galactic Federation rules he must be banished to an uninhabited planet but in the transfer 626 escapes and crash-lands on a primitive natural wildlife preserve--otherwise known as Earth. There on the island of Kauai he disguises himself as a dog named Stitch and befriends Lilo (voiced by Daveigh Chase) a lonely little Hawaiian girl with a penchant for Elvis Presley songs (and thankfully none of the characters burst into original songs). Lilo's older sister Nani (voiced by Tia Carrere) has become her sole guardian after their parents were killed but a big bad social worker named Cobra Bubbles (voiced by Ving Rhames) will take Lilo away if Nani can't prove she is fit to take care of her little sister. Of course throwing the destructive Stitch into the equation doesn't help matters much. Now being pursued by the Federation Jumba and an Earth expert named Pleakley (voiced by Kevin McDonald) the blue devil at first tries to find a way off the planet but soon takes a liking to his new surroundings and learns the meaning of "ohana"--the Hawaiian word for "family."
Although there are no "star" voices being utilized in Lilo & Stitch each character is still stamped with his or her own unique voice. Carrere (Wayne's girlfriend in Wayne's World) and newcomer Chase do a nice job with their sisterly roles and Rhames is easily recognizable as the tough Bubbles who seems a little bit more Men in Black than a mere social worker (obviously intended). Interestingly there really isn't one major villain. Characters like Jumba Bubbles and even Stitch start off as baddies but end up redeeming themselves. Only the Galactic police commissioner Captain Gantu (voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson) a 20-foot shark-like alien seems to be the one who never veers from his malevolent path to bring Stitch to justice but he's only in about one-third of the film. The star of the show is Stitch voiced by Chris Sanders. The devilish imp is a lot funnier when he's being a bad boy--running around saying the most awful things we can't understand--than being the good little alien. In one hilarious scene he builds a replica of San Francisco with Lilo's toys and then pretends he's Godzilla stomping and chewing his way through. But alas it's a Disney film so he has to come around realize he wants to be part of a family and find the goodness within himself. Ho hum.
Disney Studios were once the giants of animation. Remember when they could do no wrong as their movies grossed millions of dollars? Sure they still pride themselves on their heartwarming cutesy movies but as the hip and funny computer-generated Shrek and Ice Age dominate the current trend in animation Disney is having to keep up with the Joneses. With Lilo & Stitch it is trying. This movie is in the same vein as Aladdin and The Emperor's New Groove in which the humor and wit aim right for the older audiences--and it's appreciated. There are several laugh-out-loud moments. Plus it looks like Disney animated films are finally moving away from the original songs (which were never the same since lyricist Howard Ashman died). It's a nice change of pace. The animation is also up to par illustrating a lush and beautiful Hawaiian landscape. (But how could you go wrong with drawing Hawaii?) Still the true audience is the younger set so those Disney-esque elements have to be in place. Stitch has to become "human." Things have to wrap up neatly at the end. Maybe someday just once a Disney animated film will surprise us.