Nicolas Cage … Grug (voice)
Written by Kevin Hageman, Dan Hageman, Paul Fisher, Bob Logan
Directed by Joel Crawford
The Croods: A New Age Review
After seven long years of waiting, the Croods are back and … much different than you remember in the sequel The Croods: A New Age. Where 2013’s The Croods remains something of a minor animated classic brimming with the same heart and humor co-director and writer Chris Sanders lent to How to Train Your Dragon and Disney’s gallery of 90’s gems — namely Mulan, The Lion King, Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast — in its story of a cave dwelling family desperately trying to survive amidst a dangerous and ever-changing world of weird creatures and treacherous locales, A New Age, as directed by first timer Joel Crawford, feels more like a weekend acid trip with the neighbors during which the titular family gets stuck in a tar full of madness.
A New Age finds everyone’s favorite modern stone age family encountering the cultured and sophisticated Bettermans, a father-mother-daughter trio who have mastered the art of farming and carved a virtuoso paradise out of a tree replete with dining room, separate bedrooms (!) and windows. Predictably, Grug (voiced by Nicolas Cage) shrugs off everything he learned at the end of the first film — his acceptance of contemporary sensibilities and willingness to allow his children to make their own choices — and instead clashes with this newfound culture despite the obvious safety and comfort it affords.
To make matters worse, Eep (Emma Stone) and Guy (Ryan Reynolds) have become more romantic and, as all kids do, yearn to break away and explore the world on their own; or, at the very least, sleep somewhere outside of the family sleeping pile.
Cue the madness.
No, really. Cue. The. Madness. The Croods: A New Age devolves into something akin to a wild fever dream packed with lots of shouting, broad comedy and the type of wacky hijinks usually reserved for carnival fun houses. Is it funny? Absolutely. In fact, there are any number of moments that left me in stitches, including a bit where Grug joins Mr. Betterman (Peter Dinklage) in his literal mancave-cum-sauna and eventually spills his emotions amidst the overwhelming heat; a running gag involving Grug’s son Thunk (Clark Duke) and a window (the ancient equivalent of a TV); the scene in which Eep convinces the Betterman’s daughter, Dawn (Kelly Marie Tran), to explore the world beyond the wall surrounding her parents’ fortress of solitude, an adventure that leads to an unfortunate bug sting; and a mishap involving a stick and a seal chicken — or is it a chicken seal?
The zany adventures are rendered in gorgeous, jaw-dropping animation by the talented folks at DreamWorks who pack the picture with enough eye-popping color, vibrant imagery, land sharks, punch monkeys, and silly creatures to keep audiences visually stimulated for the film’s relatively brief 95-minute runtime.
And yet, despite the frequent jokes, madcap humor and impressive visuals, A New Age feels closer in spirit to Hotel Transylvania than its more nuanced predecessor. The film is entertaining, sure, but lacks the warmth and ingenuity of the original film and instead employs a whiplash-inducing pace to gloss over a rudimentary plot; and, worse, struggles to develop the Croods family in a satisfying way.
Grug, in particular, shifts from relatable, simple-minded fella just trying to do right by his family to an easily manipulated Homer Simpson-esque father figure driven by his own personal selfish needs. From a narrative standpoint, wouldn’t it be more interesting if he were the one yearning to break free from his family after adapting the ability to think in terms of more than just survival? And shouldn’t Eep, for all the excitement she displayed for Guy’s ingenuity in the original film, be more ecstatic about the Bettermans’ new age lifestyle? Her character still exhibits plenty of spunk, particularly in her endeavors to free Dawn from her familial prison, and during the action-driven finale in which the Crood women team up to form the “Thunder Sisters,” but mostly she throws angry tantrums when Guy focuses his attention elsewhere.
To be fair, after seven years, expectations might have been a bit to high, though watching all of these sitcom-y plot lines play out it’s easy to surmise that the makers of The Croods: A New Age returned to the well not out of some fundamental desire to continue the story, but because audiences demanded a follow up. As such, the results are indeed more but also wholly unnecessary; and the story concludes as most animated sequels do: with a handful of new, wackier characters drowning out the original pack.
In the end, you may wish for more time with the Croods and less time at the nuthouse.