November 25, 2020
by Carla Hay
Directed by Joel Crawford
Culture Representation: The animated film sequel “The Croods: A New Age” features a cast of characters representing humans who live in a world somewhere between prehistoric and modern and where over-sized animals exist.
Culture Clash: The caveperson family from “The Croods” encounters a New Age family with modern amenities and a superior attitude to people who live in caves.
Culture Audience: “The Croods: A New Age” will appeal primarily to people looking for lightweight animated entertainment that people of many different ages and backgrounds can enjoy.
Although not as cohesively written as 2013’s animated cavedweller comedy “The Croods,” the 2020 sequel “The Croods: A New Age” checks all the right boxes for escapist entertainment but offers some sly social commentary on the hypocrisy of self-appointed “hipster lifestyle” gurus. “The Croods: A New Age” pokes fun at so-called “enlightened” people who think they’re open-minded, but are really very bigoted against other people who don’t have the same lifestyles as they do. It’s this culture conflict that takes up a good deal of the movie’s plot until the last third of the movie where it delivers a predictable, crowd-pleasing “race against time” rescue scenario.
Directed by Joel Crawford, “The Croods: A New Age” picks up not long after where “The Croods” ended. The cavedweller Crood family from the first “Croods” movie is still intact: Grug (voiced by Nicolas Cage) is still an over-protective patriarch who thinks he always knows best. Grug’s wife Ugga (voiced by Catherine Keener) is still the sensible, more even-tempered spouse in the marriage. Ugga’s mother Gran (voiced by Cloris Leachman) is still a sassy, outspoken grandmother.
Grug and Ugga’s three children also have the same personalities: Eldest child Eep (voiced by Emma Stone) is an adventurous, independent-minded daughter in her late teens; middle child Thunk (voiced by Clark Duke) is likable but a somewhat dimwitted guy in his mid-teens; and youngest child Sandy (voiced by Kailey Crawford), who would be kindergarten-age if these kids went to school, isn’t old enough to have meaningful conversations, so she’s mainly in the movie to look adorable.
The Croods also have a relatively new member of their clan, or “pack,” as they like to call their familial group: Guy (voiced by Ryan Reynolds), an orphaned human from the modern world who spent most of the first “Croods” movie being the target of disapproval by Grug, especially when Guy and Eep fell in love with each other. Guy has now been accepted into the Croods pack. Eep and Guy, who are about the same age as each other, are still blissfully in love.
Guy and Eep are thinking of taking their relationship to the next level (getting their own place together, getting married, and starting their own family), but Grug doesn’t want Guy and Eep to leave the pack to start their own lives. “Eep will never leave us!” Grug declares to Ugga early in the movie. Ugga is more realistic about Eep eventually moving out of the family domain, but she doesn’t press the issue either way.
Guy and the Croods are still on their journey to find a promised land called Tomorrow, which Guy says is a utopia that he knew about when he was a child and when his parents were still alive. The land of Tomorrow is a place where dreams can come true, food is plentiful, and people don’t have the daily struggles of trying to survive the harsh environment that’s a way of life for cavedwellers.
And lo and behold, they end up finding Tomorrow. It’s a world filled with colorful plants, butterflies and creature comforts such as indoor plumbing. (There’s a joke scene in the movie where the cavedwellers marvel at how a toilet works.) But is Tomorrow really the paradise that Guy described? They’re about to find out.
The first two people they meet upon arriving in tomorrow are a married couple named Phil Betterman (voiced by Peter Dinklage) and Hope Betterman (voiced by Leslie Mann), who look and dress like New Age hippies but have the thinly veiled, condescending attitude of uptight bigots. Hope is the more insulting one of the two spouses. Upon meeting the Croods, she says, “I thought cave people died off years ago!”
It turns out that Guy already knows Phil and Hope Betterman because the spouses were the best friends of Guy’s parents, who died in a tar catastrophe, and the Bettermans raised Guy until he was old enough to be on his own. When Guy lived with the Bettermans, he was a close friend to their only child, a daughter named Dawn (voiced by Kelly Marie Tran), who is friendly and somewhat tomboyish. Needless to say, the entire Betterman family is ecstatic to see Guy again.
However, Phil and Hope are disappointed that Guy is in a relationship with Eep, partly because this snooty couple looks down on cavedwellers but mostly because they want Dawn and Guy to end up together. Phil and Hope concoct various matchmaker schemes to try to achieve that goal. Just like Grug was extremely paranoid and overprotective of Eep in “The Croods,” so too are Phil and Hope when it comes to Dawn. The Betterman spouses shield Dawn from the outside world because they don’t want her associating with people such as cavedwellers.
“The Croods: The New Age” could have gone down a very tiresome and predictable path with this love-triangle story, by pitting Dawn and Eep against each other in a catty rivalry. Instead, Dawn and Eep become immediate friends, but that has a lot to do with the fact that Dawn really isn’t interested in having a romance with Guy. Dawn’s parents keep pushing her in that direction though, because they think Guy is too good to be with a cavedweller such as Eep.
Publicly, Hope and Phil are polite to the Croods. Privately, Hope and Phil are appalled by the Croods’ primitive ways. The Croods are sloppy eaters, they have a tendency to burst through the walls instead of opening doors, and they’re sometimes loud and unruly. Hope says to Phil at one point in the story: “I don’t know if cave people belong in the modern world.”
Meanwhile, Phil finds out he and Grug have a common wish: They both don’t want Guy to end up marrying Eep. And so, Phil manipulates Grug into scheming with him to break up Eep and Guy. However, when Ugga finds out about this plan, she gets upset with Grug and makes him see that he’s just being used and that Phil and Hope must think that they’re stupid.
The movie tends to drag when it becomes about this social-class warfare between “modern” Phil and Hope and “primitive” Grug and Ugga. It’s an obvious metaphor for the political divides that can exist between liberal elites and those whom the elites think of as “less progressive” or “backwards.” Likewise, the movie continues the notion from the first “Croods” movie that people who are stuck in their ways can be a detriment to themselves and the people around them.
“The Croods: A New Age” doesn’t take sides or make political statements, because both couples act in less-than-wonderful ways during the story. However, there’s a definite message in the movie about hypocrisy: People who think they’re well-meaning in trying to instill their lifestyle beliefs on others can end up rudely treating those who don’t share the same beliefs as “outsiders” who deserve to be disrespected. And mostly, the movie is about tolerance for other people’s lifestyle choices if those choices aren’t hurting anyone.
Four people (Kevin Hageman, Dan Hageman, Paul Fisher and Bob Logan) are credited with writing the screenplay for “The Croods: A New Age.” And the movie does have a tone of “too many cooks in the kitchen” in how this entire story is constructed. The last third of the movie tries to cram in a lot of action in a somewhat messy way. It’s as if the filmmakers remembered that children with short attention spans are a sizeable percentage of the movie’s audience, and the filmmakers felt obligated to pack in some suspenseful chase scenes in this sometimes rambling and unfocused story.
“The Croods: A New Age” director Crawford makes his feature-film directorial debut with this movie, after years of working as a story artist for several animated films, including the first three “Kung Fu Panda” movies, “Trolls” and “The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part.” Visually, “The Croods: A New Age” looks better than “The Croods,” because of advances in digital animation since the first “Croods” movie was released. In terms of story, this sequel is inferior to the original, because it’s a little bit all over the place. The plot jumps from the possible love triangle to the tension over social classes to a somewhat bonkers rescue mission that involves a feud over stolen bananas, punch monkeys, Gran losing her wig, and the kidnapping of some of the story’s main characters.
The voice actors elevate the sometimes banal dialogue, with Mann and Cage standing out in their portrayals of the movie’s two characters who have the most opposite personalities (Hope and Grug) in the story. Stone as Eep and Reynolds as Guy also give very good performances, but the love story of Eep and Guy is often overshadowed by the bickering among the rival married couples. And speaking of being overshadowed, the Croods’ two youngest kids (Thunk and Sandy) aren’t given much to do, and their characters have no bearing on this movie’s plot, which essentially wastes the talent of Duke and Crawford.
Musically, “The Croods: A New Age” benefits from the fun score by Mark Mothersbaugh and the selectively spare use of pop songs. (For pop-music overload in animated films, people can watch DreamWorks Animation’s “Trolls” movies.) The Partridge Family’s “I Think I Love You” and Tenacious D’s memorable cover version of the song are put to good use in key scenes in “The Croods: A New Age.” The movie isn’t going to win any major awards, but it fulfills its purpose in being a reasonably entertaining diversion for people who like comedic adventure animation.
Universal Pictures/DreamWorks Animation released “The Croods: A New Age” in U.S. cinemas on November 25, 2020.