*1/2 (out of four)
As people hem and haw about the existence of the familiar but entertaining “The Amazing Spider-Man,” another franchise lives on without nearly enough public clamoring for its retirement.
Once again trotting out messages about friendship and family with depth that makes “Full House” episodes look complex, the fourth “Ice Age” movie involves overprotective dad Manny the mammoth (Ray Romano) clashing with his teenage daughter Peaches (Keke Palmer). She wants to hang with the cool kids (voiced by Drake, Nicki Minaj and Heather Morris of “Glee”) and shouts “I wish you weren't my father!” after dad embarrasses her. Seconds later the ice cracks and Manny, painfully annoying Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo) and dull saber-tooth tiger Diego (Denis Leary) drift away from Peaches and her mom (Queen Latifah), sparking regret in a child who learns her lesson immediately.
Because something else must happen to reach the 80-minute range, Manny and Co. encounter pirates (with voices including Peter Dinklage, Jennifer Lopez and Aziz Ansari), which means a booty joke and a chance for the only clever sight gag: A pirate flag that's actually a badger holding onto a stick and flailing in the wind. Of course, that image adorns the movie poster, so buying a ticket just means exposing yourself to that [bleeping] squirrel Scrat yet again, whose obnoxious fixation on that godforsaken nut now transforms into a disturbing addiction to his own food fetish. He's pure filler in a franchise that desperately needs new themes and new jokes. Kids will giggle at words like “boogers” and “puke,” but it shouldn't come to that.
Thankfully, the well-animated “Continental Drift” isn't as repetitive as “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs,” and personally I could listen to Minaj talk all day. Wanda Sykes also generates a chuckle or two as Sid's loopy granny. And in what feels like the equivalent of Prince opening for Bruno Mars, a funny short starring Maggie Simpson precedes the animal shenanigans. No way Homer's youngest agrees to that pairing if she could talk.
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