If you are forced by familial obligations to attend a screening of “Ice Age: Continental Drift,” the fourth in this series of aggressively bland kiddie cartoons, make sure you don’t get there late, or you’ll miss the one silver lining of the experience: A new 3-D “Simpsons” animated short called “The Longest Daycare.”
This featurette stars Maggie, making her way through the psychological minefield that is the Ayn Rand School for Tots, where that creepy unibrow baby makes sport of smashing pretty butterflies with a mallet. As Maggie gets passed over for the “gifted” section and plopped down with the “nothing special” kids, she looks over and sees a glassy-eyed urchin slurping down library paste with gusto.
The nothing-special “Ice Age: Continental Drift” is the library paste of movies -- smooth and flavorless, kids eagerly consume it despite its total lack of nutritional value. And while swallowing paste won’t do children any harm, attentive parents should offer a tastier alternative that might actually do them some good.
Scrat, the one moderately amusing character to emerge from the franchise, accidentally kicks off the separation of Pangaea into separate landmasses by chasing his precious acorn down to the earth’s core and causing continental drift. This historical event separates mammoth Manny (voiced by Ray Romano), saber-toothed Diego (Denis Leary) and sloth Sid (John Leguizamo) from their animal companions.
And while this trio -- along with Sid’s batty old Granny (Wanda Sykes) -- battle primate pirate Captain Gutt (Peter Dinklage) and his feline first mate Shira (Jennifer Lopez) in their effort to return home, Manny’s wife, Ellie (Queen Latifah), tries to lead everyone to safety while also dealing with the adolescent growing pains of daughter Peaches (Keke Palmer).
Life lessons are learned, new loves are discovered and cliffs menacingly move closer and closer to the shoreline, but almost nothing makes an impact here. It’s insulting to think that a movie aimed at children has to be this stultifyingly dull and simplistic, and there are certainly enough examples of great kids’ movies that prove you don’t have to. Just look at “The Wizard of Oz” or “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” or “Spirited Away” or “Toy Story 3.”
Will small children be entertained by “Ice Age: Continental Drift”? Yes. Will they want to watch it over and over again on DVD? Probably. Does that make it any good? Nope.
Even next to something like “Madagascar 3,” the voice cast here feels completely disengaged and one-note. Romano does the exasperated, put-upon dad routine, Leguizamo plays it dopey and disconnected, Leary snarls in a superior tone; lather, rinse, repeat. Probably the worst of the lot is Queen Latifah, whose idea of playing motherly and nurturing is to do the tone of unctuous, honey-coated voice that people put on around poodles and three-year-olds. She might as well end every declamation with, “Who’s a good boy? WHO’S A GOOD BOY?” You’ll find yourself pining for the return of the non-speaking Scrat.
So by all means, check out “The Longest Daycare,” which has all the laughs and suspense and wit that this new “Ice Age” sorely lacks. And when the short is over, you can always “Continental Drift” off for a nice air-conditioned nap.