When Dreamworks released the nutty animated film The Croods in 2013, my family loved it. Endlessly inventive, great visual eye candy, frenetic action and a parade of daft caveman era jokes added up to one of the funniest movies of the year. Since then, The Croods has always been a go-to film for my kids over quite a few other possible animated features. The story is of a tight-knit neolithic family having to leave their safe cave and embrace the changing prehistoric world as they quest to find a new home. A veritable treasure trove of family tropes, each has to figure out their new role in the family as they head out into the world.
Zoom forward seven years and Dreamworks offers up another snarky animated feature with the sequel The Croods: A New Age. This time the teen daughter of the family, Eep (Emma Stone), has fallen for handsome teen orphan Guy (Ryan Reynolds), to the immense frustration of over-protective dad Grug (Nicolas Cage).
Note: I’ve written previously about the surprisingly realistic portrayal of modern fatherhood as embodied by Grug in the original Croods movie and invite you to detour and read it: Dads In The Movies: The Croods.
Young Guy’s been on a quest since his parents died when he was but a child, pursuing a mythical place called “tomorrow”, and soon the Croods join him on the journey. Guy and Eep are besmitten in the way that only teenagers can be. “Hey!” “Heeeey!”. Eventually they encounter a giant wall, behind which they are delighted to find a veritable paradise: the home of the more evolved Phil (Peter Dinklage) and Hope (Leslie Mann) Betterman. The Bettermans are a self-absorbed hipster family whose residence takes Swiss Family Robinson treehouse to the next level, and then some.
The Bettermans were friends with Guy’s family when Guy was just a baby, and they immediately adopt him, secretly expecting he’ll be the perfect mate for their daughter Dawn (Kelly Marie Tran). Eep and Dawn are then set up as rivals for Guy’s attention, but the two girls strike up an unlikely friendship. Turns out that Phil and Dawn are just as overprotective of their daughter as Grug is with Eep.
There’s also the question of the source of the water that created the Betterman oasis: Diverting a mountain stream for their use means that somewhere up in those same mountains is an area where the water’s now dried up. And wouldn’t you know it, that’s the lair of the Punch-Monkeys, a tribe who communicate by hitting each other.
Those are the basic story threads of this fast-paced jokefest of a movie: Croods vs Bettermans, Croods and Bettermans vs Punch Monkeys, and, of course, Eep vs Dawn vying for Guy’s attention. Underlying this are messages about parents letting go so their children can find their own identities, the challenges of young love and the environmental issue of how resources like water are a zero sum game. The film also explores whether a family that dresses better, has better manners and a more sophisticated lifestyle is “better” or more evolved than another that is more, well, crude. Are the Bettermans really more evolved than the Croods, or are they just more impressed with themselves?
Fortunately all of these serious topics underlie a really funny and entertaining film that never gets bogged down in expository narrative. Indeed, the story moves along so quickly that you might want to watch it a second time to catch the commentary on modern events and personalities. And the visual gags are great, from crazy hybrid animals like the wolf-spiders to land sharks to the constant hitting of the punch-monkeys. Oh! Don’t worry, Guy speaks punch-monkey too, with a result you can imagine isn’t necessarily beneficial for Guy.
The best laughs from my family, however, came from the arrival of the mythic Thunder Sisters! I won’t spoil it, but if you have daughters, they’ll instantly start calling themselves Thunder Sisters too, as my two daughters are now doing. Indeed, while Uug, Phil and Guy tend to trip up over themselves and their plans, it’s all the women in the two families, Gran (Cloris Leachman), Ugga (Catherine Keener), Eep, Dawn and little baby Sandy (Kailey Crawford), who save the day.
While The Croods: A New Age isn’t going to win any awards for best animated feature (that seems to be reserved for films that tackle deeper topics nowadays), there’s no question that Dreamworks has delivered another winner. This is the type of family movie that’s suitable for everyone, with the youngest viewers enjoying all the action and colors, while older audience members appreciate the universal story elements of family, children growing up, sophisticated versus humble families and environmental issues. Recommended.
A Dad At The Movies Note: Yes, this is suitable for everyone in the family. There are a few tense scenes of peril later in the film, but it’s all so fast paced that any sense of anxiety will quickly be dispelled by laughter over a sight gag or funny line.