With its fifth feature-length adventure, this franchise continues its preposterous journey at full tilt. As before, it's the zippy writing, lively vocal work and colourful animation that hold the interest. The story is merely a framework on which the cast and crew can hang a series of rapid-fire jokes, pop culture references and nonsensical action sequences. And it's still mindless fun.
After their previous escapades, the expanding herd of prehistoric critters is living a happy life together, thinking about love. Mammoths Manny and Ellis (voiced by Ray Romano and Queen Latifah) are struggling with the idea that their daughter Peaches (Keke Palmer) has fallen for the too-cheerful Julius (Adam Devine). Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo) has just been dumped and feels like he'll never find a partner. And tigers Diego and Shira (Denis Leary and Jennifer Lopez) worry that their violent nature will make them terrible parents. Then suddenly there's a bigger issue to worry about: a giant asteroid is heading for Earth, threatening them with extinction. With the help of nutty weasel Buck (Simon Pegg), they come up with an idea to save the planet. They also discover a magical place called Geotopia, ruled by the groovy Shangri Llama (Jesse Tyler Ferguson).
Yes, the plot is utterly insane, especially as it is driven by the antics of franchise star Scrat, who discovers a flying saucer in the ice, activates it and heads into space, where his acorn-hunting antics trigger all sorts of mayhem back on Earth. But then this series has never had anything to do with science or biology, throwing random animals together (the dinosaurs make another appearance) for comical value while cranking up whatever suspense the writers can think of to add some momentum. They also of course pack scenes with sweet "family values" moments, plus a sideswipe at climate change deniers who refuse to acknowledge the possibility of impending doom.
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Although this adventure's premise will appeal to children, and the child within us, the film itself is far too simplistic to be a classic. But at least the animation looks terrific, with swooping action and an inventive use of nature imagery. The result is relatively engaging, consistently entertaining and never remotely suspenseful.
The story begins as teen Mary Katherine, better known as MK (voiced by Seyfried), returns home to live with her mad-inventor dad (Sudeikis) after her mother dies. Dad's house is on the edge of the forest, where he is obsessed with discovering a miniature world of beings who keep the natural world running. But his focus on work has alienated everyone in his life, and MK is still struggling to break through to him. Then she has a freak encounter with the tiny Queen Tara (Knowles), who shrinks her to two inches tall. Suddenly she's working with the Queen's chief leafman Ronin (Farrell), a rogue soldier Nod (Hutcherson), and a goofy slug and snail duo (Ansari and O'Dowd) to save the forest from the evil Mandrake (Waltz).
The script eliminates all complexity in its depiction of good and evil. Mandrake is bent on destroying the forest for no real reason, trying to bring his creeping grey decay to what is otherwise an idyllic, magical world drenched in colourful flowers, verdant ferns and trickling brooks. In other words, it's so obvious who is going to win this battle that we never for a moment worry about our rag-tag group of heroes, no matter what violence they face. So we sit back and enjoy the animators' work. While the humans look like plastic dolls, the bugs, birds, plants and critters are simply astounding, and some of the action scenes are genuinely exhilarating.
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When the ice shelf suddenly cracks in two, mammoth Manny (Romano) finds himself adrift with sabre-tooth Diego (Leary), sloth Sid (Leguizamo) and Sid's toothless granny (Sykes). But as they attempt to get home, they're waylaid by a pirated iceberg sailed by Captain Gutt (Dinklage) and his scurvy crew.
Meanwhile, Manny's wife Ellie (Latifah) and their mildly rebellious daughter Peaches (Palmer) are trying to outrun the shifting continental plates. And the film's real star Scrat is on a hunt for a hidden acorn treasure.
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