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Explaining Ice Age: Continental Drift

Posted on Tuesday July 3, 2012, 17:46 by Helen O'Hara in Empire States
Explaining Ice Age: Continental Drift

Ladies and gentlemen, it is time to tackle one of the great scientific conundrums of our age. No, not the Higg's Boson - that's been found. Not that faster-than-light blip either; that's been discredited. No, the conundrum to which I refer is Ice Age: Continental Drift. Let's recap. And yes, the word "overthinking" will apply to this entire blog.

The very first Ice Age movie saw a small group of prehistoric mammals - a mammoth, a sabre-tooth tiger and a giant sloth - attempting to return a lost human baby to its tribe while also attempting to get out of the way of the apparently-just-encroaching ice age.

Now that movie appeared to take place during the last ice age, given the development of the humans. Said ice age lasted from 110,000 to 10,000 years ago; humanity has existed since about 50,000 years ago, which narrows it down a bit. If the stories take place in the US, which seems to be the case given the presence of Sid's megalonyx and Diego's smilodon (both native to the Americas), humanity only landed there about 15,000 years ago, so that narrows down the range even further. And the megalonyx became extinct 11,000 years ago, seems like, which gives us another limit. So we're talking between 15,000 years ago and 11,000 years ago for the film's timeline, if the basic set-up is to be trusted, so the ice age had been around for ages and wasn't new at all. (Scrat presents a whole other problem, by the by: researchers have recently found a "sabre-tooth squirrel", but it lived 100 million years ago alongside the dinosaurs).

The second film, Ice Age: The Meltdown, saw the self-same group of animals try to escape the devastating consequences of a melt in the ice. Now the ice age didn't end until about 10,000 years ago, so either that's a small, localised melt on the edge of the encroaching ice (possible, to be fair) or these animals are hella-long lived and were still around at least 1,000 years later (Sid having outlived his whole tribe by a millenium, which he manifestly has not since they're still around in the fourth film).

The third film, Ice Age: Dawn Of The Dinosaurs, involved a closed eco-system that somehow still supported a dinosaur-based ecology. This seems unlikely, but we suppose might explain what the heck Scrat is doing there. Let's just draw a veil and move on.

The new film, Ice Age: Continental Drift, takes in the separation of the continents from Pangaea (shown onscreen) as well as a multi-species band of pirates. And here is where it all gets a bit difficult. Pangaea existed between about 300 million and 200 million years ago - so what the hell is it doing drifting now?

I met the directors last week, and they were awfully nice men but somewhat at a loss to justify this particular plot development. Incidentally a lesser problem is that the bad guy, Captain Gutt, is a gigantopithecus, a species that vanished about 100,000 years ago (from South-east Asia, at that, but then he is a sailor), and the particular whale species shown vanished between 12-13 million years ago.

But for any stressed-out parents out there who might be concerned that their children are going to be scientifically scarred for life and grow up thinking that things happened in the wrong order and never get into the best schools, here are some possible explanations that might appease Junior, avoid children getting the wrong end of the geological stick and save them from a life of confusion.

1. Time Travel
Their friendly pre-historic mammals have simply found a rift in space-time, which explains why their little valley remains largely free of ice while the rest of the world freezes. To explain this further, just put on some vintage Star Wars, Doctor Who or - in extremis - Brigadoon. Your child will grow up geeky (or musical) and all will be well.

2. Immortality
What are mere eons to Gods? Clearly, our main trio and all their friends must be mysterious alien deities (since old-school gods are not the preferred explanation for most right-thinking parents concerned about scientific niceties), probably from Asgard, who have been time-travelling around the globe. OK, so this bears some resemblance to point 1. But in this scenario, one of them - probably the mysterious and illogical and unnaturally powerful Scrat - controls the rift. Your child will tear down the curtains and wear them as a cloak, but at least he or she will have lovely flowing hair.

3. Magic
It's like that bit in the Riftwar books where Pug got trapped in the Garden of the City Forever and travelled backwards through time, steadily accelerating, until he reached the beginning of the universe (just us?). By this token, the next instalment will be called Ice Age: Primordial Ooze. Your kid will grow up to be David Blaine.

4. Locality
Leaving the scenes involving Scrat aside, this doesn't have to be Pangaea. It could just be a localised earth movement that has no real worldwide significance. This argument also explains all the previous sequels. The animated sequence in which a squirrel dealing with an acorn causes continental drift is, clearly, fantasy. Because that's just stupid. Your kid will grow up a scientist or mathematician, striving for an explanation of complex systems..

5. The Limits Of Science
The bit involving Pangaea aside, all the extinction discrepancies can be largely explained by the fact that the fossil record is patchy and incomplete and there's some room for error. Why, scientists haven't even discovered that these animals could all talk and sing pop songs, so they clearly don't know anything. Your kid will become an animator.

6. It's Just A Film
So give up already. At most, go with option 4 and explain that all the bits with the nuts are just, well, nuts. Your kid will become an accountant.

Or perhaps you can offer us a better explanation below? Our eternal salute to the most inventive.

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1 JamieNC
Posted on Tuesday July 10, 2012, 12:07
Being the parent of a 4-year-old, I consider myself a bit of a completist with regard to the whole Ice Age canon, and would also like to offer up for your consideration Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas (a DTV short which made for an incredibly successful stocking-filler in our house last year). It posits the existence, during the same era, of flying reindeer and Santa, which throws the whole issue wide open as far as I'm concerned.
Assuming the logic of the franchise so far, this December should see the release of Ice Age: Gold, Frankincense and Manny, where our intrepid friends face a race against time to get the Angel Gabriel to the nativity on time. Should give the creationists something to chew on...

2 Bean_boy
Posted on Wednesday July 11, 2012, 01:24
Alternat universe. Nuff said

3 dakes69
Posted on Wednesday July 11, 2012, 14:59
Genius Helen, just genius.

4 timkenyon
Posted on Wednesday July 11, 2012, 18:46

I think the points raised here are more cogent and clear than those raised in Podcast episode 19.

Continental Drift (first proposed by by Alfred Wegener) is still alive, well, and responsible for things as wonderful as the constant grinding of the San Andreas Fault - hence San Francisco's rather precarious position on the edge of the ocean. Continental Drift occurs very VERY slowly although in the timescale suggested above the continents weren't far away from where they are now.

So, my suggestion: It's a movie! Though I am concerned of the precedence this will set to future generations of school children.

Tim Kenyon

5 davey_g
Posted on Thursday July 12, 2012, 09:29

Higgs Boson!!!

A Bosun works in the Merchant Navy

6 mikehussey
Posted on Wednesday July 25, 2012, 08:48
The wild comic animated movie makes to move into a entirely new planet.

7 Cookiedough
Posted on Thursday August 9, 2012, 07:56
Riffing on the whole alternate universe theory posited thus far, the whole set up is actually The Matrix, as played out through the mind of Sid.

8 alexfrith
Posted on Friday August 24, 2012, 11:37
Scrat is in fact God's first attempt to manifest himself on Earth as a mammal. (you know, before he tried it again as Jesus and then most successfully in Time Bandits, just appearing as himself).

But a) He hasn't been paying enough attention to changes in evolution, so doesn't notice that Sabre-tooth squirrels have been extinct for millennia.

and b) he hasn't learned to control his omnipotence yet, so all his minor actions have enormous ramifications on Earth, making every small crack turn into an epoch-changing cataclysm.

The acorn, of course, is the Devil, locked in a eternal dance with God.

Posted on Friday August 24, 2012, 13:13
As science fact and fictious films go together about as well as oil and water (and this is a pre-empitve shut-up to anyone who suggests that an emulsifying agent can help make oil and water mix to form a colloid), your suggestions make sense.
Here is my suggestion for how to explain the timey-wimey wierdness of the Ice Age films.

Parents are taking kids to a natural history museum. They reach an exhibit to do with the Ice Age and thus make up a story to explain what is happening to their children. This forms the basis of the first film. Scrat is prehistoric equivalent of "little Suzie's" toy squirrel which she nagged her parents to include in the story.....

The subsequent films are therefore based on the sotries told to explain subsequent exhibits with the requirement of using characters from the first "exhibit". The reason for the shift in time peroids in a seemingly random fashion is that the parents are not going round the exhibits in the right order.
In about 4 films time it is going to get really odd, when they hit the gift shop on the way out (and stumble upon Banksy).....

Personally I would either go with the immortal gods explanation or the Scrat is a pre-Jesus manifestation explanation.

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