Now up to the fourth prehistoric creature feature, the hit animated Ice Age films continue to evolve, writes Michele Manelis.

Superstar Jennifer Lopez and comedienne Wanda Sykes join regular cast favourites Ray Romano, Denis Leary and John Leguizamo in the fourth instalment of the Ice Age animated franchise, Ice Age: Continental Drift.

This time the woolly mammoth Manny (Romano), sloth Sid, (Leguizamo) and sabre-toothed tiger Diego (Leary) have to survive on an iceberg in the midst of raging seas, as well as battling some pesky pirates along the way.

The villainous Captain Gutt, voiced by Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones), returns to lead his motley crew which includes some newcomers: Flynn, the elephant seal, voiced by British comedian and actor, Nick Frost (Paul, Shaun of the Dead), and Australian actress, Rebel Wilson as Raz, a prehistoric kangaroo.

"The story picks up when Scrat, the beloved sabre-toothed squirrel is integrated into a catastrophic event that sets the story in motion," says Steve Martino who co-directs with Michael Thurmeier.


"He falls to the centre of the earth and before you know it there are continents breaking apart and cracks racing through the world."

Helping appeal to the teenage market, Manny's daughter Peaches, voiced by Keke Palmer, has typical power struggles with her parents.

Says Thurmeier: "Like many fathers, Manny is finding it hard to let go of his daughter and accept that she needs her independence. The loveable mammoth is holding on a little too tight but Peaches is the kind of teenager who wants to stand on her own feet."

'It's very universal," adds Martino. "She's a teenage mammoth stepping out on her own and she wants to be part of the cool gang. She's trying to be what others think she should be and she learns to embrace her own unique qualities."

Says Thurmeier, "Ellie [Queen Latifah], her mother provides the voice of reason. She's instilled values in Peaches and she trusts her daughter will make the right decisions. It's a challenging thing for a parent to do, and something in which we can all relate."

A major storyline is the romance between Diego, who meets his match in love interest, Shira (Lopez) the white sabre-tooth who oozes sex appeal and runs rings around him.

"Jennifer Lopez is fabulous as Shira. She's fun and smart," says Martino. "She's a huge icon, and whatever you may have in your mind of what she might be like, she was sweet and giving. She was really amazing, actually, and would do whatever we asked of her. She brought far more than we expected and totally immersed herself in the role."

Another new character is Granny (Sykes), an endearing 80-year-old, and Sid's long lost grandmother. "She's a surprising visitor for Manny, Diego, and Sid, a stowaway trying to stay afloat on the iceberg," says Thurmeier.

Adds supervising animator, Nick Bruno, "We modelled Granny's characteristics on the granny in The Beverly Hillbillies, the classic 60s television show. We wanted an overall feeling of sweet and sour.

She tries to do good things but she's pretty mean. And that's what makes her so funny."

What: Ice Age 4: Continental Drift
When: Opens at cinemas June 28