Assuming that you already know what's happened in the previous installments (or maybe that you simply don't care either way), "Ice Age: Continental Drift" picks up right where the last film left off (we're assuming – honestly we can't remember it that well), with our main characters – wooly mammoth Manny (Ray Romano), sabre-toothed tiger Diego (Denis Leary) and sloth Sid (John Leguizamo) -- kind of walking around the ever-changing primordial landscape. There's not a lot of forward momentum to these movies, because there is never any discernable goal for any of the main characters, and the action is frequently broken up to check in with Scrat, the silent, nut-obsessed sable-toothed squirrel, who has become the Mickey Mouse of the franchise. These interludes are funny but add to the frustratingly fragmented nature of the storytelling.
Thankfully, things get shaken up when the characters' small iceberg boat are boarded by pirates. Yes, pirates. It doesn't make much sense, but it makes slightly more sense than dinosaurs being in the last movie, so we'll call it a marginal improvement. The pirates are led by the villainous Captain Gutt (Peter Dinklage – brilliant), a scurvy-ridden primate, with long, mangy dreadlocks and hair that's styled into a pirate's hat. The rest of the motley crew includes a prehistoric rabbit played by Aziz Ansari and a giant, blubbery seal played by Nick Frost. You can tell that the animators were growing tired of designing cuddly prehistoric creatures and are relishing the chance to create some truly fearsome and unlovable beasts – it shows. The Captain Gutt design in particular is something to goggle at; he towers as a technical and artistic wonder.
"Ice Age: Continental Drift" isn't nearly as exhausting as all of that sounds. But it sometimes gets close. The problem with these movies is that scenes rarely click into place, and lack an overarching narrative, which is a huge problem both practically and thematically. There's one scene where Lopez's Shira is imprisoned by our heroes and it totally comes out of left field. The scene literally begins with her behind bars. And we have no context, so instead of paying attention to the movie (something was happening), you're left wondering – wait, these characters who we're supposed to be invested in (who are fundamentally good guys) are imprisoning women? What? And how did they even do that since none of them have opposable thumbs or prehensile tails.
And, honestly, for "Ice Age: Continental Drift" to be as entertaining as it is, is sort of a miracle. You can tell everyone is running really low on ideas, and the animators at Blue Sky have dreamed up some truly beautiful vistas and environments (as nerdy as it sounds, their water simulators are breathtaking) and the older characters' design have been subtlety tweaked in refreshing ways. It's also incredibly short (even with a droll 3D "The Simpsons" short film tacked on to the beginning), which, in a summer where even waffle like "Battleship" extends over two hours, isn't faint praise. [B]