Whenever I watch an "Ice Age" movie, I understand how my mother felt whenever I zoned out in front of the television after school. "Speed Racer" and the "Scooby-Doo" cartoons looked like mind-rotting junk to Mom, but in the end I turned out fine -- gainfully employed, functionally literate -- and most likely so will the millions of kids raised on "Ice Age." But boy, do these movies bug me.

Partly it's because they're so loud, incoherent and sloppily conceived that they make "Scooby-Doo" seem like "Great Expectations." The fourth "Ice Age" installment, subtitled "Continental Drift," begins like a family sitcom, with woolly mammoths Manny (voice of Ray Romano) and Ellie (Queen Latifah) hovering over their teenage daughter, Peaches (Keke Palmer). But then Pangaea starts to crack, and Manny is stranded on an iceberg with saber-toothed cat Diego (Denis Leary), Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo) and Sid's doting Granny (Wanda Sykes).

Suddenly -- pirates! The simian Captain Gutt (an almost too-evil Peter Dinklage) and his saber-toothed helpmate, Shira (Jennifer Lopez), add to the overstuffed plot, but the movie has barely even begun. It brings in Scottish chipmunks, Greek sirens, a sensitive mole hog named Louis (Josh Gad, of Broadway's "The Book of Mormon") and three cool-crowd mammoths played by Heather Morris (of Fox's "Glee"), rapper Drake and hip-hop star Nicki Minaj (whose gum-snapping Queens accent -- "Wha-eva!" -- is actually the funniest thing in the movie).

I haven't even mentioned the franchise's constantly screaming mascot, Scrat, an acorn-chasing squirrel-rat whose interstitial segments are designed to add nothing to the plot (two have been distributed as stand-alone theatrical shorts). Why do kids like this stuff? For the same reasons I did, I guess.

PLOT When Pangaea starts to crack, Manny the Mammoth is separated from his family. RATING PG (some rude humor)

CAST Ray Romano, Denis Leary, Queen Latifah, John Leguizamo

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PLAYING AT Area theaters, some in 3-D

BOTTOM LINE "Ice Age" No. 4 once again favors noise and chaos over story and character, though kids will probably love it anyway.

New 'Ice' hot at foreign box office

'Ice Age: Continental Drift" is melting the hearts of foreign moviegoers. The animated film already has grossed $198 million overseas.

The fourth installment in 20th Century Fox's popular franchise doesn't hit theaters in the United States until Friday, but the 3-D movie is on its way to becoming a global hit. This weekend, the film about three Paleolithic mammals played in 48 foreign countries and collected $80.6 million.

The film performed especially well in Germany, where it had the biggest opening of the year in that country with $14.5 million in ticket sales. The picture continued to do strong business in Mexico and France, where it debuted last weekend, with ticket sales falling only 27 percent in the European country.

The family film was the No. 1 option in a number of international markets, beating "The Amazing Spider-Man" in 14 locations such as Argentina and Colombia. Next weekend, the film will open in an additional 29 foreign countries, including the United Kingdom and Russia.

It appears the fourth "Ice Age" movie will prove to be as popular abroad as its predecessors. The third installment in the series grossed an impressive $690.1 million internationally in 2009 -- accounting for roughly 78 percent of its worldwide tally. -- Los Angeles Times