They say familiarity breeds contempt. If that is indeed the case, then the Ice Age family film franchise must be one of the most hated in the history of Hollywood. Having long since dumped decisiveness for a Land Before Time level of series regurgitation, we are being given the fifth full length feature (among shorts, TV specials, and other merchandising) in the billion dollar artistic ATM, even as the domestic grosses have given way to massive international interest. This means you won’t find anything out of the ordinary here. Only the set-up–involving “ancient astronauts”–provides something sort of novel for the nonstop series of passable pop culture riffs to bounce off of.
The beginning sees everyone’s favorite rat-mouse-thing, Scrat (Chris Wedge) getting mixed up with an alien spacecraft that it finds on his prehistoric planet. A bunch of physical shtick later and the vermin has sent several asteroids hurtling back toward Earth. In the meantime, Manny the mammoth (Ray Romano) and his wife Ellie (Queen Latifah) are fretting over the nuptials of their daughter Peaches (Keke Palmer) to her fiance Julian (Adam Devine).
When one of the wayward space rocks hits dangerously close to the clan, their buddy Buck (Simon Pegg) warns that they have to seek a way of preventing a future disaster that would wipe out all life on the planet. Through a series of complications involving series regulars Sid (John Leguizamo) and Diego (Dennis Leary), they all end up in a place called Geotopia where everyone is young and the leader–Shangri Llama (Jesse Tyler Ferguson)–isn’t really interested in helping.
As you can see by that last character name, Ice Age: Collision Course is in the business of parodying everything it can, in lieu of legitimate jokes. For those who don’t get the reference, see Lost Horizon and its utopian premise as your guide. Lots of films get checked off the easy gag list, from 2001 to various New Age teachings, all throw at the screen in an attempt to make the audience unaware of how empty, hollow, and dated this approach to cartooning is becoming.
When Scrat is front and center, it’s back to the days of Looney Tunes and Chuck Jones and Tex Avery. It’s animation as we remember it–without nods to Taylor Swift or Neil DeGrasse Tyson (who shows up to narrate, and to play a wily weasel). Had the director and writers taken this approach throughout the entire film, we’d have something silly, but far more palatable than this overstuffered attempt at star service. Every voice actor has to have their moment. Every prehistoric hero has to have their collection of bits. When put together, Ice Age: Collision Course becomes a chaotic child’s party, occasional amusements bashing into unbelievable sitcoms stylings to create a junior-oriented jumble.
There is little to redeem this effort. Even the 100 minute running time pushes the attention span of today’s wee ones. How something so frenetic can feel so lax at the same time is a mystery, and yet even with such a manic core, Ice Age: Collision Course is showing its age. You can hear it in the occasionally dreary delivery from the long standing members of the franchise. Romano and Leguizamo are trying, but they’re not really caring. You can sense the pauses for a laugh track.
This is not to say that kids won’t love it. After all, they’re not as demanding as adults, and the rest of the world seems to only love this series more and more. But on the heels of two other superior efforts this year–Zootopia and The Secret Life of Pets—Ice Age: Collision Course feels like an afterthought…or what it really is intended to be–a blatant money grab.