Dirs: Steve Martino, Michael Thurmeier. US. 2012. 87mins

Ice Age 4 Continental Divide

After adding dinosaurs for its third installment the Ice Age animation franchise brings animal pirates on board for chapter four, a frenetic 3D outing that mixes large scale action adventure with the usual family comedy. The commercially canny refurbishment should help Continental Drift add another big box office take to the impressive track record of the Fox/Blue Sky Studios franchise. 

The fun occasionally feels a bit forced but never so much so as to induce serious franchise fatigue.

The franchise has always been disproportionately popular outside the US and Continental Drift opens in a number of international markets this weekend, arriving a month after rival animal animation Madagascar 3. The North American opening follows on July 13, three weeks after Brave, while it opens in Scotland on June 29, to take advantage of region’s summer school holidays.

The release pattern may boost Continental Drift’s eventual gross, though beating the performance of 2009’s Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs - $197m from North America and a record-breaking $690m from international - will still be tough. 

Co-directed by Dawn Of The Dinosaur’s Michael Thurmeier and co-written by Michael Berg, who worked on Dawn and the original Ice Age, the fourth installment uses the creation of the continents to drive its story. The seismic split leaves woolly mammoth Manny (again voiced by Ray Romano), sabre-toothed tiger Diego (Denis Leary) and sloth Sid (John Leguizamo) adrift at sea while Manny’s wife (Queen Latifah) and daughter (Keke Palmer) are stuck on unstable land.

Trying to reunite the family leads Manny and Co into conflict with a band of pirates whose number include an evil orangutan captain (nicely voiced by Game Of Thrones’ Peter Dinklage), a female sabre tooth (Jennifer Lopez) and a dopey elephant seal (Nick Frost). Among the abundance of other new characters are Sid’s cantankerous granny (Wanda Sykes), some teenage mammoths (rappers Nicki Minaj and Drake) and a colony of manic guinea pigs. 

The story has its family themes - Manny’s problems with his teenage daughter being the most prominent - but they don’t add up to much. The film spends more time on its fairly impressive ocean going action and an abundance of 3D-enhanced slapstick comedy - including the familiar interludes of squirrel-rat Scrat and his elusive acorns - that will amuse kids if not their parents.   

The fun occasionally feels a bit forced but never so much so as to induce serious franchise fatigue.

Production company: Blue Sky Studios

Worldwide distribution: 20th Century Fox

Producers: John C Donkin, Lori Forte

Executive producers: Chris Wedge, Carlos Saldanha

Screenplay: Michael Berg & Jason Fuchs

Music: John Powell

Characters designed by: Peter de Sève

Art director: Nash Dunnigan

Editors: James M Palumbo, David Ian Salter

Casting: Christian Kaplan

Website: www.iceagemovie.com

Main cast: Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, Seann William Scott, Josh Peck, Peter Dinklage, Wanda Sykes, Jennifer Lopez, Queen Latifah