The Ice Age series has always gone more for the heart than the funny bone, though there is no denying that Scrat’s eternal and Sisyphean struggle both to acquire and to retain the acorn he’s been chasing through the four previous films has, in equal parts, both hilarity and a keen commentary on the noble struggle of humankind against a basically unfeeling universe. It’s only right, then, that Scrat, the proto-mammal that refuses to accept defeat, should be the catalyst for the action in ICE AGE: COLLISION COURSE. The plucky rodent’s pursuit of dinner leads him not just to a subterranean cavern, but also to outer space courtesy of the spacecraft he finds there when that acorn rolls into it. Inadvertently launching the craft, and then hitting the wrong button on the control panel, Scrat initiates an unfortunate game of cosmic billiards, and sends a three-mile wide asteroid hurtling towards his home planet. Ancient alien fans rejoice. Ice Age fans should, too. This is a beautifully animated film, and Scrat’s misadventures have never been depicted with more piquant imagination.
Back on Earth, Manny (Ray Romano), despite wife Ellie’s (Queen Latifah) pep talks, is having a hard time accepting that his daughter, Peaches (Keke Palmer), has found the mammoth of her dreams in Julian (Adam Devine). Sid (John Leguizamo) is having his heart broken by a fellow sloth (Melissa Rauch) who finds him too clingy after only 12 minutes of dating. Diego (Dennis Leary) and Shira (Jennifer Lopez) are pondering bringing a baby sabre-tooth tiger into the world. Ellie’s lemur foster brothers, Crash (Seann William Scott) and Eddie (Josh Peck) are wreaking their usual acrobatic havoc, and Sid’s grandmother (Wanda Sykes) is defying the Grim Reaper with a pugnacity that explains his reluctance to engage with her.
When it becomes all too apparent that the pretty lights in the sky that everyone assumes are for Manny and Ellie’s anniversary are something deadly, the animals head underground, only to find that their old friend, Buck (Simon Pegg), the one-eyed weasel with a flair for showmanship and a corporeal flexibility that defies anatomy, is way ahead of them. He’s found an ancient prophecy carved on a stele that advises facing down the asteroid because it will end all life on earth if it isn’t stopped.
Of course it’s not that simple.
Buck’s penchant for do-gooding has ticked off some dino-birds, who amplify their evil by also being apocalypse deniers convinced that they will be able to fly above the blazing inferno that the asteroid hit will ignite hence their mission not just to kill Buck, but also to prevent Manny and company from preventing the asteroid to make landfall and spoiling the dino-birds plans for a large scale barbeque.
Once you get past the idea that denizens of the Pleistocene can talk, ICE AGE: COLLISION COURSE has some nifty object lessons in celestial mechanics, the physics of gravity, the practical applications of static electricity, and the complexity of family relationships and friendship. As for how Jupiter got its red spot, well, creative license. As is a weasel version of Neil deGrasse Tyson, for that matter, though his science is sound. So is the writing, which is unabashedly heartfelt with a story that moves along with a nicely paced alacrity that allows time for fun and for sentimentality with neither taking away from the other. Aimed more at kids that adults, it doesn’t completely forget that adults with a few references to classic films and a few comments about cougars that have nothing to do with felines.
ICE AGE: COLLISION COURSE has a sweetness to it that is palpable even when it’s poking gentle fun at New Age sensibilities in the secret enclave of Geotopia, a crystal wonderland ruled by a yoga master (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) of a lama (one “l”). It’s the way the animators have drawn eyes that can transmit the subtlest of emotions in even the most ungainly of creatures and the tender patience they all have with one another. To be sure, there are jokes aplenty, even as lessons are learned, tears of many kinds are shed, and Scrat, intrepid little mammal that he is, appears throughout, enduring the unendurable in pursuit of a meal as everyone faces their fears and carries on against the seemingly impossible without ever considering surrender to despair.