July 31, 2012

Ice Age: Continental Drift (2012)

WITH ICE AGE: CONTINENTAL DRIFT’S $47 million opening weekend (pushing its worldwide total to $380 million), the Ice Age films are now one of the highest-grossing movie franchises ever – up there with Harry Potter, James Bond, and Lord of the Rings.

As someone who’s seen the first Ice Age but not parts 2 or 3 (The Meltdown and Dawn of the Dinosaurs), I began to wonder if I was missing out on a rewarding movie franchise – one whose likability and popularity was apparently evident by its billions in box office and the millions of moviegoers who have kept the saga afloat since the original Ice Age in 2002.

After seeing Ice Age: Continental Drift -- the highly disposable yet occasionally endearing fourth entry in the series from Blue Sky Studios (Rio, Horton Hears a Who!) – I don’t think I’ve been missing much. We meet up with woolly mammoth Manny (Ray Romano), sabre-tooth tiger Diego (Denis Leary), and Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo) as their herd (including Manny’s wife Ellie (Queen Latifah) and their teenage daughter Peaches (Keke Palmer)) get caught up in the cataclysmic separation of their landmass, casting Manny, Diego, Sid, and Sid’s eccentric Granny (Wanda Sykes) out to sea on a mass of ice.

As our trio of heroes (plus 1) try to reach the destination where Ellie, Peaches, and the rest of the herd will meet them, they encounter simian sea pirate Captain Gutt (Peter Dinklage) and his crew, including first mate Shira (Jennifer Lopez), a sabre-tooth tiger who ends up with conflicting feelings about her captain and Diego.

With all the effort the filmmakers behind Ice Age: Continental Drift put into the action scenes and stunning visuals (especially the breathtaking sequences of the giant land mass breaking apart), they should have devoted more to character development. Ironically, that devotion would be a major undertaking, for by continuously adding new characters with each film in the franchise, it leaves directors Steve Martino and Mike Thurmeier with the unenviable task of finding a purpose for each character in what is now a cast of dozens.

This overpopulation is also a far cry from what made the original Ice Age’s core trio of Manny, Diego, and Sid fun to watch. Martino, Thurmeier, and Continental Drift’s trio of writers seem to agree, for the main plot sends Manny, Diego, and Sid (and Sid’s Granny) on their own adventure, relegating the rest of the cast to a B-story of trekking across the remaining landmass to reunite with our heroes.

The dialogue and jokes in Ice Age: Continental Drift rarely rise above the level of sitcoms or Saturday morning cartoons, and laugh-out-loud moments are at a minimum. The only exceptions are the adorable, hyperactive hyraxes (who form an Ewok-like alliance with Manny, Diego, and Sid to help bring down Captain Gutt) and the ongoing hilarious antics of Scrat the squirrel and his never-ending pursuit of his elusive acorn. Outside of that, the script largely serves to advance the plot to the finish line, peppered with mawkish Valuable Lessons and Very Special Moments about love, family, father/daughter relationships, and not forgetting your true friends.

If Pixar classics such as Finding Nemo and The Incredibles are gourmet meals, then Ice Age: Continental Drift is Chinese food: It doesn’t stay with you, and an hour later you’ll be hungry for something more substantial.


What did Dash and Jack-Jack think?
Dash and Jack-Jack both enjoyed Ice Age: Continental Drift, though neither raved about it afterwards. I’m guessing that, like their father, they found it suitably entertaining at the time, but pretty forgettable afterwards.

Is it suitable for your kids?
Ice Age: Continental Drift is rated PG for mild rude humor and action/peril.

Mild/rude humor: Sadly, there is so much name-calling that it’s impossible to list them all here, but a sampling includes “freak,” “wiener,” “stupid,” “loser,” “idiot,” “tubby,” “cry baby,” and “pinhead.” In addition, Granny makes a couple of off-color quips, such as “I’ll bury y’all and dance on your grave” and “If they kiss, I’m gonna puke.” Also, Sid exclaims “Holy crab!” after seeing a giant crustacean, and a child animal asks Ellie, “When you drink through your nose, does it taste like boogers?”
Action/peril: An extended sequence shows landmasses separating violently, causing animals to run and panic; some of the fights between Manny’s herd and Gutt’s pirates are pretty intense, with weapons in heavy use; Gutt makes verbal threats to various characters, and attempts to kill Ellie and Manny during the finale.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
My wife enjoyed Ice Age: Continental Drift, though I’m guessing it won’t rank as one of her all-time favorites. But it made for a passably fun family film outing while it lasted.


Ice Age: Continental Drift
* Directors: Steve Martino, Mike Thurmeier
* Screenwriters: Michael Berg, Jason Fuchs, Mike Reiss
* Stars: Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, Jennifer Lopez, Queen Latifah, Peter Dinklage, Keke Palmer, Simon Pegg, Seann William Scott, Wanda Sykes
* MPAA Rating: PG

Rent Ice Age: Continental Drift from Netflix >>

July 7, 2012

Labou (2009)

*SIGH*. Another week, another anemic selection of G-rated kids’ movies on Netflix.

We wind up with Labou, an independent children’s film where three tweens – Toddster (Bryan James Kitto), Gavin (Darnell J. Hamilton), and Emily (Marissa Cuevas) – set out in the Louisiana bayou to find the lost treasure of Capt. LeRouge (Barnie Duncan), but on the way discover a cute little swamp critter named Labou.

After Opposite Day and Labou, I’ve had about all I can take of marginally talented kid actors speaking paragraphs of adult dialogue. For what it’s worth, Kitto is the best of the three kid stars and delivers his lines with the most conviction.

What’s even more frustrating is how the kids react upon meeting Labou. Most kids would probably say something like, “Omigod, it’s some kind of alien lizard creature! I hope it doesn’t have a taste for human flesh!” Instead, they’re merely curious about their not-of-this-earth discovery, and after five minutes they’re having an impromptu musical jam with him(!).

Labou is an animatronic creation (think Gremlins’ Gizmo crossed with a frog) who’s convincing enough to satisfy kid viewers, but adults will be much more cynical. He feels like he could have been plucked from a Jim Henson reject pile.

Even worse than his unconvincing appearance, Labou disappears from the film for stretches at a time – forcing viewers to sit through either a) the three kid actors trying to carry their scenes; or b) unfunny slapstick and insults between a pair of bumbling father-and-son developers (Earl Scioneaux and Chris Violette) who want to raze Labou’s swampland home and build an oil refinery.

While it’s too little too late, the last 20 minutes of Labou does hit on the magic that the rest of the film struggles to deliver, and it all ties up nicely at the end.

Bottom line: Writer/director (and veteran FX artist) Greg Aronowitz obviously made Labou for kids, and in that respect, mission accomplished. It’s a perfectly harmless, highly disposable children’s film that parents shouldn’t (and won’t) take too seriously.


What did Dash and
Jack-Jack think?
Labou may test the attention spans of very young children, but gradeschoolers will probably find it entertaining. To that point, Jack-Jack had almost no interest in the film, giving up halfway through, while Dash stayed with it, paying attention at every line of dialogue and laughing several times. His final summation: “It wasn’t too bad.”

Is it suitable for your kids?
The only minor concerns in Labou are some name-calling (“loser,” “idiot,” and my personal fave, “Billy the Skidmark”) and a brief scene featuring a drunk person.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
She may enjoy the fact that Labou is almost totally harmless for children, though like most adults, I doubt she’ll actually enjoy it herself.

Aaarrrgh, indeed.

* Director: Greg Aronowitz
* Screenwriter: Greg Aronowitz
* Stars: Barnie Duncan, Darnell Hamilton, Bryan James Kitto, Marissa Cuevas, Earl Scioneaux, Chris Violette, Ray Nagin, Kelson Henderson
* MPAA Rating: G

Rent Labou from Netflix >>


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