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This all-new chapter in one of the most successful film franchises of all time brings together the visually epic and the emotionally powerful; the humorous and the heartfelt - plus the world's most beloved prehistoric squirrel-rat and the ultimate unconventional herd of this or any Age.

Joining our familiar "Ice Age" friends and family (Romano, Leguizamo, Leary, and Queen Latifah) for the new film are some of the entertainment world's brightest talents, including hip hop sensations Nicki Minaj and Drake, and global crossover star Jennifer Lopez.

The magical ingredient of the franchise is its focus on family. This provides the stories' rich emotional underpinnings, as well as much of their comedy and adventure. "'Ice Age' has always been about family," says Lori Forte, who has produced the entire series and co-wrote the story for ICE AGE: CONTINENTAL DRIFT. "No matter what the plot is of a given 'Ice Age' film, it still comes down to family - and about how Manny, Diego, Sid and the now-extended clan look out for one another. That kind of storytelling and humor appeals to everyone, everywhere."

"From the very beginning this was a franchise defined by its heroes - three animals from different species, with different experiences. They are strangers when they meet and family when we leave them," adds co-screenwriter Jason Fuchs. "Each film explores what it really means to be a family. Is it just something you're born into? I think all our characters grapple with that question. And I think it's Diego who has sort of the essential line of the film when he's asked, kind of dismissively, what's the difference between a pack and a family? Diego replies, 'We have each other's backs.' And that's what it means to be a family, and that's the heart of this movie and of this franchise."

Interwoven with these epic tales of family exploits are the continuing adventures of Scrat, whose sole purpose in life - whose very existence - revolves around an acorn as elusive as it is cherished. Scrat's quest for the nut has had consequences; in the first "Ice Age" Scrat's obsession triggered the Ice Age itself. In ICE AGE: CONTINENTAL DRIFT, Scrat and the object of his pursuits are nothing less than the catalyst for a cataclysm. Forget what you've learned in geology about the continents forming as a result of massive tectonic turbulence and volcanic eruptions tearing land masses apart. ICE AGE: CONTINENTAL DRIFT reveals that these seismic shifts came about from Scrat's misadventures.

The film reunites us with Scrat as he's going about his usual business: he has grabbed the acorn, set it down on the ground - and suddenly a mountain is torn apart and the earth itself opens up, separating land masses into the seven continents. Scrat hurtles toward the earth's core, triggering massive earthquakes, which in turn isolates Manny, Diego and Sid from the rest of the herd.

From his introduction as a breakout character in "Ice Age" to becoming a celebrated movie icon, Scrat has brought joy to countless moviegoers - and to the filmmakers who bring him to life. "There's no better or more enjoyable character to animate than Scrat," says director Steve Martino. "Who else can you knock around, smash around - and he just keeps going after that nut?!" Adds supervising animator Nick Bruno: "Scrat is why I'm in animation. His adventure in this movie is like a classic tale, where he sees his goal, goes after it, and gets his butt kicked. But this time, the stakes for him and for the herd couldn't be higher."

Scrat's continental crack-up has cast adrift Manny, Diego and Sid from the rest of the herd, including Manny's beloved wife Ellie and their teenaged daughter Peaches (who was born in 2009's "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs"). Prior to the calamity, Manny and the headstrong Peaches have been quarreling, as dads and their teenaged kids tend to do. Their disagreements are relatable to any parent or teen, or everyone who knows a parent or teen. "Manny's the prototypical overprotective dad," says director Steve Martino. "He's longing to hold onto those days when Peaches was a little girl, but now she's at that age when she wants to step up and be on her own."

"The Pleistocene world is pretty tough for a dad," jokes screenwriter Michael Berg, who has also written or co-written two earlier "Ice Age" films. "There's a lot of danger out there - and a lot of teenage boys."

Ray Romano again voices the much put-upon wooly mammoth. "Ray is the best at what he does," says Martino. "He gives a natural performance that plays to his formidable comedic strengths." For Romano, returning to Manny was like visiting an old friend, though the beloved actor-comedian has unconventional methods of getting back into character. "Before he starts recording, he repeats one of Manny's lines from the first 'Ice Age' - 'I'm not going!'-and for some reason, that line turns him into Manny," explains director Michael Thurmeier. Romano's reel life (as Manny) and real life (as dad to a daughter approaching adulthood) came together in unexpected ways. He explains: "Just as Manny has to deal with Peaches becoming her own person --- or mammoth, that is - I'm kind of living the same thing, because my daughter just graduated from college. That's a big thing for me, because I still think of her as a kid with a runny nose. The good news is, I've never been stuck on an iceberg."

Manny's better half, Ellie, is an oasis of stability amid Manny's frantic parenting. (Ellie's calm remains unruffled by her two trouble-prone "brothers," possums Crash and Eddie, again voiced by Seann William Scott and Josh Peck.) "Ellie and Manny balance each other," says Queen Latifah, who returns as Ellie, having previously voiced the role in "Ice Age: The Meltdown" and "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs." "Manny is overprotective; Ellie is a little more relaxed and nurturing because she understands what Peaches is going through, especially with her crush on boys. As a teenager, everything seems like it's the end of the world, and I don't think that's ever going to change."

Despite her mom's best efforts, Peaches, voiced by actress-singer Keke Palmer, rebels against Manny's strict rules. "Peaches is going through some pretty mammoth stuff," puns Palmer. "She's ready to get out there and experience new things - and discover boys." According to producer John C. Donkin, "Keke has her own attitude, along with some of the sass of Queen Latifah, and the warmth you find with Ray Romano."

Peaches' biggest conflict with her dad stems from the increasing amount of time she's spending with her teenage friends, especially Ethan, the Big Mammoth on Campus, voiced by hip hop sensation Drake. For Drake, working on ICE AGE: CONTINENTAL DRIFT was akin to joining a new family, and, as he puts it, "being on a big emotional roller coaster ride. I am thrilled to be part of it."

No dad - two-legged or four-legged - will be surprised that Manny thinks Ethan isn't good enough for Peaches. "You know," says Romano, "when your daughter brings home a boy mammoth, you're only going to think bad things and not like him." Still, Romano admits that sharing the screen with Drake gives him "some major street cred," as does working with rapper Nicki Minaj, who plays Steffie, one of the mammoth "It Girls," and Peaches' romantic rival for Ethan's affections; and "Glee's" Heather Morris, who portrays another teen mammoth, Katie.

Minaj, one of today's brightest musical talents, notes that Steffie will do anything to hold on to her mammoth. "When she finds out that Peaches is after Ethan, she does what any stand-up woman would do - be really jealous and nasty," sa

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