God is a demented rodent, lusting haphazardly for nuts. That’s one of the more plausible ideas floated by Collision Course, the latest entry in the proudly implausible (and implausibly ongoing) Ice Age series. Part five opens, as every Ice Age does, on the comic agony of Scrat, the twitchy squirrel whose Sisyphean efforts to hoard a stray acorn lead this time to a flying saucer, frozen solid in the glacier he bumbles upon. Before you can wrap your head around the implications of that reveal, Scrat has accidentally piloted the spacecraft out of Earth’s atmosphere, where—after the 2,001st 2001 joke—the little guy knocks around some debris, creating the entire layout of the solar system, before bumping a giant hunk of space rock in the general direction of our planet. “Someone up there likes us,” one of the nattering mammals below eventually squawks, blissfully unaware that the higher power creating chaos from the cosmos is a screaming pest with a brain smaller than the shelled snack he covets.
A nagging question occurs, early and often: Could this be the most scientifically inaccurate movie ever made? The first Ice Age, released in the prehistoric past of 2002, wasn’t exactly educational entertainment, but it at least kept its geologic periods straight. When the sequel said “screw it” and unfroze some long-extinct aquatic reptiles, all bets were off. In Collision Course, a talking possum can’t take two steps without violating some basic law of motion; the cartoon physics make Chuck Jones look like David Attenborough. Taking anachronistic humor to nonsensical new lengths, the filmmakers also stuff their characters’ maws with mentions of profile pictures and hashtags. “That seems highly implausible, just from a scientific standpoint,” goes one bit of lazy lampshading. Another casts professional pedant Neil DeGrasse Tyson as an imaginary weasel, spitting hard data from another animal’s mind palace. It’s a bit like Alicia Silverstone handing out asparagus at Baconfest.
Yes, yes, this is a kids’ movie, so it hardly matters that none of it makes one lick of sense, even on its own terms. Collision Course’s half-assed fact-fudging is much easier to roll with than its half-assed sitcom mushiness. Ray Romano, back as grouchy mastodon Manny, may sign up for these movies for the easy paychecks, but he’s still the closest thing they have to an auteur. What is the Ice Age series now but an animated Everybody Loves Raymond? Manny and his celebrity-voiced friends and family do plenty of multitasking on their way to diverting doomsday; a plummeting asteroid is no more urgent than an impending case of empty-nest syndrome. Accompanying adults not tickled by jokes screaming out for a laugh track or the inevitable, obligatory pop-song jamboree can mark time trying to pinpoint which stars have lent their pipes and climbed aboard the Ice Age money train since the last installment.
Every once in a while, the hacky zingers halt in favor of some inspired physical comedy—as when, for example, an eye-patched miniature pirate voiced by Simon Pegg plays keep-away with a dinosaur egg, the “camera” tracing his acrobatic evasion of flying adversaries. (As is too often the case with studio cartoons, a gaping blast crater separates the effort level of the animators from that of the writing team.) The best bits, as always, belong to Scrat. Collision Course finds its grotesque mojo every time the focus shifts back to outer space, where the speechless critter’s fur and flesh fall off his skeleton in a high-gravity mishap and an overtaxed teleporter does a Cronenbergian number on his physiology. It’s enough to make the discerning wish that Ice Age would pull a Minions and make these sidekick pratfalls the main attraction. That or just let the falling rock do its damage. Is extinction imminent for this franchise and its domesticated wildlife? Parents and film critics should be so lucky.