Having starred in several family-oriented projects over the past six years -- including her title roles in the acclaimed film "Akeelah and the Bee" and the hit Nickelodeon TV series "True Jackson, VP" -- actress-singer Keke Palmer has developed a keen sense of how important it is to deliver good, solid family entertainment.
So when the opportunity came up to join the popular "Ice Age" franchise with the fourth film in the series "Ice Age: Continental Drift," the 18-year-old performer leaped at the chance. Having the opportunity to do fun family fare is one thing, she said, but when something like a meaningful "Ice Age" film comes along, the experience is elevated to a whole new level.
"I think the main reason people like going to see the 'Ice Age' films with their kids is because adults can have a good time, too," Palmer told me in a recent interview. "A family can really bond watching it, and get something out of it, too."
Palmer voices the role of Peaches in "Ice Age: Continental Drift," the character who was introduced as the baby of Mammoths Manny (Ray Romano) and Ellie (Queen Latifah) in "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs." Now a smart and sassy teenager, Peaches has a developed a habit of defying her parents as she begins to gain her independence, and much to the chagrin of overprotective dad, she's discovered teenage boys.
Even though Ellie has a better understanding of what her daughter is going through, her behavior still leads to a huge blow-up between Manny and Peaches. But the argument between the two seems trivial when a continental cataclysm separates Manny from his family.
Set adrift on an iceberg with his old friends Diego (Denis Leary), Sid (John Leguizamo) and accident-prone sloth's curmudgeonly grandma (Wanda Sykes), Manny promises he'll somehow reunite with his family.
Opening in theaters Friday in 2D and 3D, the film also stars the voices of Peter Dinklage, Jennifer Lopez, Nick Frost, hip-hop sensations Drake and Nicki Minaj, and "Glee" star Heather Morris.
A huge subplot in "Ice Age: Continental Drift" finds Peaches trying to break in the cool "in-crowd" of teen mammoths, even if comes at the expense of her loyal friend, a mole hog named Louis (Josh Gad).
"My character's story is about coming of age. I think there's a great lesson in here about being true to yourself," Palmer said. "I think every young kid comes to the point where they have one set of friends, but want to explore being with other people. It shows how tough it is to be on your own and try to figure out how tough those choices are to make. It asks, 'Do you want to stay with the people who are good or do you want to be part of the crowd?"
Palmer said the voice actors all recorded their performances separately for "Ice Age: Continental Drift," much in the same way the performances for most animated films are assembled. But what made this film unique from the others was that Palmer, who played Latifah's daughter last year in the musical comedy "Joyful Noise," also happened to be recording voice tracks around the same time her big-screen mom was for "Continental Drift."
"I remembering when we were shooting 'Joyful Noise,' she'd tell about the weekends she'd be off to record some 'Ice Age' voice stuff," Palmer recalled. "We were talking about how cool it not only to be a part of the 'Ice Age' film, but how flexible it was because we were shooting 'Joyful Noise' in another state and were still able to do the work."
While Palmer had the benefit of having direct contact with Latifah during the "Ice Age" process, she said her acting sensibilities definitely changed from when they were filming "Joyful Noise" together.
"You have to use your imagination a lot because things aren't right in front of you. Plus there are things like, 'How do I sound when I'm falling down a cliff?' You don't tend to think about those things where you're sitting around at home," Palmer said. "So from that point of view, it's really difficult."
The fun thing about the process, Palmer said, is that when she's making the effort to get into that different frame of mind, the artists on the film try to capture some of her personal characteristics to integrate into the animation.
"All the little eye movements Peaches makes are definitely something I can identify with. I looked at her and said, 'Oh, that totally looks like me in that moment," Palmer enthused.
The bonus for Palmer on "Ice Age: Continental Drift" was that the singing star also got to record the end title song "We Are," which features shots of all the voice actors in the film behind the microphones joining in.
"It was really cool because it was written by Ester Dean, who I love," Palmer said. "Plus, it was an awesome thing that all of the cast members got to be in the song with me. It's like having a souvenir from the job, being able to realize that."