Synopsis – The prehistoric family the Croods are challenged by a rival family the Bettermans, who claim to be better and more evolved.
My Take – Released back in 2013, DreamWorks Animation‘s The Croods, was a delightful little film about a cave family in a fictional prehistoric era and featured the voice talents of Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Clark Duke, Catherine Keener and Cloris Leachman. Though the film ended up raking in $587 million worldwide and even scored itself an Oscar nomination, for some reason a sequel never made it to the top of the studio’s priority list, who instead launched a 2-D prequel Netflix series called Dawn of the Croods, which ran for four seasons till 2017, to fill in the supposed void.
Now arriving seven years later, following a crazy cycle of corporate acquisitions, director changes and a flat out cancellation, it sure is a downright miracle that the sequel managed to retain its original voice cast. However, the bigger surprise is how the sequel turns out to be not just an entertaining cinematic excursion, but also a wonderfully worthy continuation that completely justifies its existence over the course of its rollicking 95-minute runtime.
Especially considering the fact the cinemas are starving for new family entertainment in a marketplace that’s seen very few major releases since March outside of Mulan and Trolls: World Tour, hence making the arrival of this film from debutante director Joel Crawford, a longtime animation story artist who worked on the Kung Fu Panda series for DreamWorks Animation, a much needed welcome.
Sure, the sequel doesn’t match its predecessor in terms of originality and warmth, but it sure is a good blend of smart, irreverent humor coupled with eye-popping, neon-Technicolor animation which the kids will enjoy and won’t be a traumatic experience for the accompanying adults.
Set right after the events of the first film, the story once again follows the the Croods, a family of cave people consisting of Grug (in the voice of Nicolas Cage), Ugga (in the voice of Catherine Keener), Thunk (in the voice of Clark Duke), Eep (in the voice of Emma Stone), and the grandmother (in the voice of Cloris Leachman), who along with Guy (in the voice of Ryan Reynolds), Eep’s boyfriend, are still searching for a place to settle down, a place Guy dreamily refer to as ‘Tomorrow.’
And they do stumble upon it of sorts, in the form of a walled-in community with farming, tools and comforts, things that are wholly foreign to the rag-tag survivalist cave family, a place inhabited by Guy’s former family friends, the Bettermans, Phil (in the voice of Peter Dinklage), Hope (in the voice of Leslie Mann), and their daughter, Dawn (in the voice of Kelly Marie Tran).
While the Bettermans openly invite their new guests inside, soon the wildness of the Croods, begins to seem like a threat to their more suburban way of life. They also see Guy’s return as an opportunity for the daughter, Dawn, to find love, not realizing that Guy and Eep are still smitten with each other, and are looking to move away from the pack and into a home of their own, much to the dismay of Grug. Meanwhile, there’s a mysterious threat outside the walls of the paradise home with which both families will eventually have to deal with.
Like the first film, the sequel is cute, clever and traffics in conventional themes like the importance of family, not judging those who are different from you, while offering lush animation and genuinely great voice work. The two families do not mesh together particularly well, with one valuing privacy, tidiness and progress and the other being, well, crude. You can already guess the misunderstandings, the hurt feelings and where it all eventually ends up and it’s a journey with a good heart. Some kids might even take some comfort in relating more to one family or another, or, as the sequel discovers, wanting what the other family has.
It might not be completely novel concept as one would expect, but is essentially harmless, if a little chaotic, fun for kids and doesn’t need to be anything more than that. The central conflict between the Bettermans and the Croods prompts a compelling conversation about communication between contrasting individuals who are alike in their humanity but at odds in how they choose to live their lives.
The picture doesn’t convey any complex political or social commentary of any sort, but it does tell a touching tale about putting aside prejudices, that both families possess, and shaping a stronger and more successful society with empathy instead of enmity.
The film also finely fleshes out the characters and their chief concerns in ways that feel like plausible progressions from the first film. Like Grug has abandoned his isolationist ideologies, but when Eep and Guy start to plan a future together apart from the family, his fatherly instincts and fears are activated once more. Meanwhile, Guy is forced to decide what exactly his future should look like? Should he stick the compassionate Croods, who have affected so much of his adult life, or the brainy yet boastful Bettermans, who were pals with his deceased parents?
The film has enough genuinely funny moments to keep you engaged, and a bit with “punch monkeys” that will likely produce giggles and then, depending, a follow-up conversation about punching. Thunk also gets to make more of an impression this time, thanks to his running window gag, which is consistently funny.
But where the film wins the most is in its visual representation. It’s clear that the seven-year wait was worth it in some respect merely for these advancements in animation, as the second installment in the Croods franchise is a significant step up visually from its predecessor.
Much like the first installment, the design of the world is beautiful, vivid colors filling much of the landscape that energizes the audience members, but not being afraid to fall into dark, drabber color and shadows to make foreboding landscapes meant to scare our heroes away. The whole design of the world maintains its cleverness as well, fusing various beasts together into forms that are humorous, fun, functional, and deadly all at the same time. As we reach the modern age, the clever devolution of our technology is hysterical to watch, not only in how it fits in the Stone Age’s devices, but more so how the characters react to it in a sort of poke to our own traditions.
This ingenuity is used well on multiple facets of this film as story, design, and humor all maintain creative execution of director Joel Crawford, who took over from directors Kirk DeMicco and Chris Sanders following its initial cancellation.
The returning voice actors turn in the expectedly solid work, actors with big personalities who are also wildly funny, each bringing a great deal of heart to their cave-people characters when necessary. Nic Cage continues his stubborn-but-sweet father shtick down to a science at this point, while Ryan Reynolds is as engagingly endearing as he is always. Emma Stone too continues to pour her charming spunky star power. Catherine Keener, Clark Duke and Cloris Leachman continue their exceptional support.
New additions, Peter Dinklage, Leslie Mann and Kelly Marie Tran are aptly amusing as well. On the whole, ‘The Croods: A New Age’ is a reasonably fun animated romp with enough humor and heart to make viewers of all ages laugh out loud and effectively justifies its existence.
Directed – Joel Crawford
Rated – PG
Run Time – 95 minutes