At one point in “The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild,” the twin heroes find themselves in a familiar place and voice what many in the audience are quietly thinking.
“Have we been here before?” asks the slightly dim possum named Eddie. Replies his equally dim brother, Crash: “It does kinda look familiar.”
Yes, we’ve been here before. This is the sixth “Ice Age” feature — not counting two TV specials — and it’s all alarmingly familiar even as it tries to refocus away from the original stars: Sid the sloth, Mannie and Ellie the mammoths, and Diego the saber-toothed tiger, none of whom are voiced by celebrities this time.
Screenplay writers Jim Hecht, Ray DeLaurentis and Will Schifrin have reached back to recruit many old friends for this spin-off. Crash and Eddie first appeared in “Ice Age: The Meltdown,” the one-eyed, dinosaur-hunting weasel of the title has been around for a few films now and the whole thing is set in the same underground world that was introduced in “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs.” Even Momma Dino makes a cameo.
There are two welcome new characters: Justina Machado voices a cool, striped polecat named Zee and Utkarsh Ambudkar is the bad guy, a big-brained dinosaur named Orson. They add a critical freshness or else the film would seem to last as long as a real ice age.
The plot is a possum-coming-of-age tale. Crash and Eddie (now voiced by Aaron Harris and Vincent Tong) feel stifled by their motley crew of a herd and sneak off. “It’s time for us to make our own destiny,” one says. “And maybe even make our own lunch,” says the other.
The two accidentally discover (again) the Lost World and are protected by Buck, a confirmed bachelor with a pirate’s heart voiced by Simon Pegg. The possums will need his help because Orson hopes to destroy the underground peace with an army of raptors. “Dinos rule, mammals drool!” he says.
Buck and Zee are yin and yang here. He’s the rush-in-without-a-plan guy and she’s more practical. “We’ll never defeat Orson if you keep going all ‘buck wild’ without thinking first,” she tells him. He’s got nice advice for the twin possums: “It’s not powers that make you a superhero. It’s courage and resourcefulness.”
Making Eddie and Crash the heroes this time is a bit of a gamble since they’ve always been just humorous sidekicks. But it mostly pays off since little viewers will see a pair of kids standing up for themselves and learning to be courageous. Or as one creature notes: “What they lack in intelligence, they make up for with bumbling ineptitude.”
Director John C. Donkin, a longtime part of the franchise, doesn’t mess with the visual language. There is always a tiny pause when creatures hang in midair before falling and there are lots of martial arts flips. In all the bathroom humor — yes, “Buck crack” is a joke — there are attempts to make the adults laugh: “I love the smell of skunky gas in the morning” and “Use your feeling words.”
“The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild” is actually a little better than you might expect on its sixth outing. There are lessons for the kids about how the strong mustn’t dominate the weak, about independence and change, and new families that can be born of love not blood. But visually and storytelling-wise it’s not a cut above much of what kids can watch on TV these days. This is a franchise that looks like it’s slowly going the way of the dinos, while we drool.
“The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild,” a Walt Disney Pictures release that streams Friday on Disney+, is rated PG for “some action and mild language.” Running time: 81 minutes. Two stars out of four.
MPAA Definition of PG: Parental guidance suggested.
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits