I’m not sure why I expected “The Croods: A New Age” to be at least a little bit more than, well, crude. It’s been a minute since I’ve seen its 2013 predecessor, but I do remember being pleasantly surprised by it. And there are some things to love in its new sequel, but it’s largely too unremarkable to be memorable.
The film opens with the Croods—a family of cavemen living in prehistoric times—continuing their search for a place to come home. All of the characters, and their original voice cast, are back, including dad Grug (Nicholas Cage), mom Ugga (Catherine Keener), Gran (Cloris Leachman), and kids Eep (Emma Stone), Thunk (Clark Duke), and Sandy (Kailey Crawford). They are also joined by Guy (Ryan Reynolds), Eep’s boyfriend, who Grug is still butting heads with, afraid that he is going to take his daughter away from the rest of the family. As a child, Guy’s parents told him to look for his “tomorrow,” and it seems like the family has found it one day when they stumble upon a bright new fruit-filled land. It’s there that they meet Phil and Hope Betterman (Peter Dinklage and Leslie Mann) and their daughter Dawn (Kelly Marie Tran). As their very on-the-nose surname suggests, they are a more evolved type of human from the Croods, and this is reflected in their appearance as well as their home, a massive treehouse with all the modern comforts, from showers to elevators. The Bettermans also knew Guy as a child, and believe that he belongs with them. The difference between their usual close-knit life out in the wild and this comfortable and safe new home threatens to tear the Croods apart, while another threat lies outside the Bettermans’ gates.
“The Croods: A New Age” is directed by Joel Crawford from a story by the original “Croods” directors, Kirk DeMicco and Chris Sanders. For a film that’s pretty straightforward and doesn’t take many risks, there sure is a lot going on in the story. The character moments, however, all play into each other pretty well. The characters all have their own quirks that make them funny and interesting, and their voice actors put a lot of energy into their performances. Cage is once again great as Grug, who is tough and doesn’t really like change; there’s an edge to his voice that works well for this character. A highlight among the new characters is Tran’s Dawn. Dawn has been protected by her parents her whole life, leaving her safe buy isolated, and she longs to see the world outside her home. One of the most pleasantly unpredictable things this film does is not pit Dawn and Eep against each other as rivals for Guy’s attention. While they are friends, Dawn actually couldn’t care less about Guy, and she and Eep become fast friends as Eep helps her let loose. Tran makes Dawn really exuberant and fun, and the same can be said for Stone about Eep.
The film is really bright and colorful and isn’t afraid to get weird with its characters and environments in this fictional stone age, which are populated with creatures like punch monkeys and land sharks. The animation is fast and leans into the slapstick sequences, and the character designs are varied and interesting. But otherwise, the story itself isn’t very clever, and begins to wear thin toward the film’s final act, where it becomes a little unclear as to just what this movie is about. Yes, ultimately the adventures they go on allow the characters to better understand themselves and each other, but the action reaches a point where it feels like we’re all just going through the motions. The Bettermans aren’t good or bad, just kind of annoying. And it isn’t overly funny (there are one or two gags that came out of nowhere that made me bark with laughter though, I’ll admit that) or moving either, but its heart is in the right place.
Kids will likely enjoy “The Croods: A New Age;” it moves so fast that there’s little opportunity for boredom, and there are plenty of sight gags and silliness to keep them engaged. And perhaps their parents will be engaged too. It isn’t a bad movie, it just feels like it’s lacking something to make it more memorable. I feel like I enjoyed the start of the film—before the Croods meet the Bettermans—more than the rest of it, when the Croods were still out in the wilderness trying to scrap together a living. But I suppose that, just as we see humanity evolve in the film, we all have to move on eventually.
“The Croods: A New Age” is now playing in theaters and available to rent on demand. Runtime: 95 minutes. Rated PG.
Media review screener courtesy Universal Pictures.