A feel-good dollop of noisy nonsense
There is nothing new in The Croods: A New Age, other than the mash-up novelty of seeing their latest spin-the-wheel animal combinations. Kangadillos! Scorpion badgers! Vulture rats! This feel-good dollop of noisy nonsense has the requisite state-of-the-art digital animation, astounding feats of computational rendering that have become a baseline bar of entry for any self-respecting studio cartoon. Every new release shows off jaw-dropping feats of technical triumph. But what’s the point if the story’s recycled hokum? All that technicolor bedazzlement ends up looking pretty dull.
THE CROODS: A NEW AGE ★★★(3/5 stars)
Directed by: Joel Crawford
Written by: Kevin Hageman, Dan Hageman, Paul Fisher, Bob Logan
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Peter Dinklage, Leslie Mann, Kelly Marie Tran
Running time: 95 min
Hollywood loves its cacophonous, brassy-sassy family movies, and so apparently does the rest of the world. The first Croods made a barrel of money in 2013 espousing a “Get out of your cave” inspirational message and a “Pack stays together” show of family unity. Plus, a lot of screaming and hitting and biting and falling. Seven years later, there’s a new Croods, because I suppose people were clamoring for another one. Not clamoring? The original writer-director duo who made the first and are conspicuously absent from this follow-up.
No worries. The Croods: A New Age has clearly cracked the not-so-secret recipe, once again delivering a “Get out of your cave” inspirational message and a “Pack stays together” show of family unity. Plus, a lot of screaming and hitting and biting and falling. All, of course, swaddled in the industry’s latest-greatest animation techniques: rapturously detailed, blindingly colorful, and undeniably entrancing.
Both the original and this sequel follow the Croods, a family of prehistoric cave-dwellers who, by force of circumstance, are no longer living in a cave. In the first film, a nomadic teenage boy named Guy (Ryan Reynolds) falls for the teenage Crood daughter named Eep (Emma Stone) and uses grit and charm to win over her parents (Nicolas Cage and Catherine Keener).
In the new movie, Guy leads the Croods back to his childhood home, which is now a paradisical but walled-off irrigated farm fortress. Its residents, Phil and Hope Betterman (Peter Dinklage and Leslie Mann), along with daughter Dawn (Kelly Marie Tran), wear flip-flops and live in an elaborate tree house. Phil sports a man bun and enjoys his own secret sauna. There are bananas everywhere but eating them is forbidden, which of course leads to a sinister subplot that involves monkeys who punch a lot. They’re called punch monkeys.
What’s admirable, though, is that The Croods: A New Age actually puts in some effort to improve on its predecessor’s low standards. This sequel delivers its corporate-mandated entertainment, but also ratchets up a few surprising eccentricities with an unexpected Valkyrian feminist twist that powers the film’s high-octane last act. Is that Haim singing? And Tenacious D? Also, are those wolf spiders and a flying hairpiece called Wigasus? Okay, you have my attention. And, frankly, a pinch of gratitude.
As a father, I know too well that movies like The Croods: A New Age fare better with kids and that my opinion isn’t always welcome, let alone relevant. So I asked my 11-year-old daughter Amelia to watch it with me and weigh in with her thoughts. This was her conclusion: “ I feel like when they were making the movie, they said, ‘This is probably not going to be the best movie ever.’ But it was good.”