Review: Long delayed 'The Croods: A New Age' digs up solid family fun
Courtesy of Universal Studios/Dreamworks Animation
In 2013, “The Croods” was an unexpected box office juggernaut, becoming the 11th highest grossing film of the year with over half a billion dollars. Original animated films that aren’t made from Disney are lucky to gross half those margins, so it’s a bit of a head scratcher as to why Dreamworks – which immediately greenlight a sequel - took almost a decade to get it on screens. Now, several release dates shifts and a global health crisis later, we have “The Croods: A New Age,” a fluffy, overstuffed follow-up that builds on what made the first outing successful.
“The Croods” was a massive hit but nobody under the age of five was clamoring for a sequel (and now those elementary schoolers are teenagers). Like its predecessor, Joel Crawford’s directorial debut offers a similar, fish out of water tale filled with cave-centric humor that’ll offer warmth over the holidays. Plenty of what folks loved about “The Croods” are still intact: the voice performances rule (Nicholas Cage’s unsung commitment to the prehistoric patriarch is what our world needs right now); there’s a plethora of bright, colorful animals running wild, and a wholesome message ripe for the holidays.
After a brief voiceover quickly sets things up - even the filmmakers know people haven’t watched “The Croods” since 2013 – reintroducing audiences to this band of characters, notably Guy (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) whose presence in “The Croods” helped propel the cave family’s misadventures. He’s also a driving force in “A New Age” where the tragic backstory surrounding his parents gets uncovered. The first film ended with the motley crew of misfits searching for their new home of “Tomorrow,” something Guy would often allude to in the 2013 original.
As of now, the family is still searching for utopia, sleeping in a smelly pile, and fending off prehistoric beasts each day looking for food. Grug (Cage) has done his best to keep the pack safe, including teenage daughter Eep (Emma Stone) whose developing feelings for Guy. So on top of ravenous creatures trying to kill The Croods every waking second of the day, now Grug has to deal with hormonal teens in love. Considering the general concept behind these films - that no matter the place in history, all families essentially deal with similar problems - these developing subplots aren’t far fetched.
But just when Grug and his wife Ugga (Catherine Keener) plan to tackle the issue, they miraculously stumble upon the land of Tomorrow, and you’d think Dorothy stepped through to Oz (okay, maybe that’s pushing it, but you get the idea). At least it allows the animation department to work some magic and truly pop. Not only is this place equipped with an endless supply of food, water, and punch monkeys, we meet the Betterman’s who have been living in this paradise for an untold amount of time.
The Betterman’s (emphasis on the better) have crafted their own slice of prehistoric heaven, but you already know it won’t take long before the old and new school inevitably clash. So when Grug and Phil Betterman (an enigmatic Peter Dinklage) face off, dubiously in a man cave, over Guy’s future and which family he should stay with, it won’t shock anyone. Meanwhile, Ugga and Hope Betterman (Leslie Mann - equally hilarious) dish the tea on their own differences and Ebb and Dawn Betterman (an infectious Kellie Marie Tran) geek about having a “girlfriend” to talk gossip. Unfortunately, some family members get the short end of the narrative leash including Thunk (Clark Duke) whose main throughline is watching the “window” (a metaphor for technology in the stone age) and Gran (Cloris Leachman) who exists in the background, called upon for one big climatic moment when the script demands it.
This paves the way for silly and hilarious side quests, but with eleven different characters and a tight 95 minute runtime, “A New Age” manages to pack plenty of story within a tiny package. Though “The Croods” is a far cry from Dreamworks best franchise (“How To Train Your Dragon” - fight me) there’s enough meat on the bones in terms of basic animation skill set to dig up a solid alternative for families in the holiday corridor. For a delayed animated sequel targeted at children, you could do a lot worse.
THE CROODS: A NEW AGE is now playing in theaters (where open) and will debut in PVOD towards Christmas.