The prehistoric family the Croods are challenged by a rival family the Bettermans, who claim to be better and more evolved. (from IMDb)
Just like with any genre, animated sequels can be pretty hit-and-miss. Oftentimes, they're not designed to be part of a franchise, so when they're given a sequel, it can feel forced and unnatural. Disney became notorious for making straight-to-home-video sequels to many of their beloved theatrical movies, including The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. These franchises found a new life on kids' TV sets worldwide. DreamWorks has struck gold on more than one occasion by turning a successful film into a blossoming film franchise. It all began with 2001's Shrek, which spawned three successful sequels (with a fifth movie/reboot always a topic of possibly happening). And, obviously, 2010's How to Train Your Dragon earned two theatrical sequels and more than one spin-off television series. So, I suppose it should be no surprise that 2013's prehistoric caveman story The Croods has finally gotten a sequel 7 years later - The Croods: A New Age.
2013's The Croods was a charming film. It didn't seem like a huge movie, but it was a wonderful family story that played off the dangers of living in prehistoric times; it had a lot to say about living in fear and overprotective parents. Nicolas Cage brilliantly voiced Grug, the overprotective father of the Crood family, and his daughter, Eep, also wonderfully voiced by the talented Emma Stone, was basically mankind's first teenage girl who wanted to break out of the boring day-to-day of hiding-to-surive. It captured that classic "road" movie that was often popular in the films of days gone by, and was quite funny in the process. It even boasted a theatrical score from the legendary Alan Silvestri, fresh off the first Avengers film (and before he ran our hearts up and down the emotional ladder with the third and fourth Avengers outings). The Croods: A New Age pushes almost a decade since the first film graced the silver screen. All of the original voice cast returns (including the recently-passed Cloris Leachman as Gran), and picks up right where the first movie left off. When we last saw them, Grug had finally overcome his fears and need to live his days out hiding inside a cave, and he manned up to become the ultimate protector of his family. Eep had gotten past her resentment towards her father and had also found true love in Guy (delightfully voiced by Ryan Reynolds) - literally the only teen boy she's ever met. It's a sweet and endearing story and a solid DreamWorks entry.
Even though it's only been seven years, The Croods: A New Age is clearly influenced by the social issues that have plagued entertainment and politics since after the first movie released. The sequel opens with a montage showing The Croods' journey from where we last saw them to a wall-enclosed land that seems like true paradise. The family seems to otherwise be getting along just fine, although Grug is now worried his daughter may be leaving their pack to start a life of her own with Guy (which is understandable). Beyond this mysterious wall, The Croods meet a new family--The Bettermans. They're domesticated, modern-day people who have created a Swiss Family Robinson-like treehouse extravaganza that blows the minds of the far more primitive Crood family. It turns out that Guy actually knows Hope and Phil Betterman, and their daughter Dawn is an old childhood friend. Everything about the Bettermans turns the lives of the Croods upside down, shaking up the family dynamic at its roots. The voice talents of Leslie Mann (Hope), Peter Dinklage (Phil), and Star Wars: The Last Jedi's Kelly Marie Tran (Dawn) join the already star-studded cast, and do a great job bringing their characters to life on the screen.
The first thing the viewer will notice with this movie is how much more detailed and colorful it is compared to the 2013 film. The original movie is impressive in its own right, but A New Age definitely opts to show off what these animators can do with computers these days. (Remember that iridescent sequence in How to Train Your Dragon: Hidden World? They doubled-down with that color scheme and effect in this movie.) The first Croods was soaked in earth tones--browns, oranges, reds, etc--nicely capturing that prehistoric look and feel. A New Age trades this for a psychedelic color palette, and gives our caveman family a fish-out-of-water experience. It's a tired concept, that does, admittedly, still work at times, but the way it's executed here is surprisingly counter-effective. It's like those who made the film threw out the things that made the first film work so well. A New Age feels a great deal like another disappointing animated sequel, Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2, which, ironically, also released in 2013 (and features the same composer as this sequel, which only makes it feel more like that movie). Cloudy 2 took the more intimate, smalltown story of the first film and traded it for a far more sci-fi, creature-centric (and brightly colored) storyline. Curiously similar to that film, Croods: A New Age prides itself in providing hybrid animals--like Wolf Spiders and Pigrats--which is reminiscent of Tacodiles, Ratbirds and Cheespiders. But all of that is relatively minor and forgivable, but the current trend of deconstructing gender roles is heavyhanded in A New Age. The previously masculine and brooding Grug is almost completely reimagined--even in the way he's drawn in this sequel (his roughness is replaced with a more cartoony, polished Wreck-It-Ralph look), especially when the flip-flop-wearing, hairbun-donning hippie Phil Betterman influences him. Some of it makes for some decent and charming humor, sure, but anyone who's finally growing weary of Hollywood's bizarre gender blending will see what's at work here. It's only made more obvious when all of the women unite (and the younger boy, Thunk?) as warriors called "Thunder Sisters" to save the men who are in trouble, and then Phil and Grug share a "bromantic" moment that even utilizes the same romantic song that earlier was played for the love between Guy and Eep. Yeah, it's not very subtle. I have no problem with strong women (Wonder Woman is awesome, Princess Leia has been a toughie since I was a kid, and who couldn't love Cara Dune in The Mandaorian?), but things like what they're doing here is getting kind of ridiculous.
Even if you overlook these changes and just shrug it all off and take The Croods: A New Age for what it is, it's not a great movie. It's fun seeing these characters again, and everyone in the cast gives it their best for sure. There are also some great gags (even if they get a bit played out), like "speaking" Punch Monkey, or Thunk's obsession with watching a window (to make a statement about people's addiction to screens), but there are more than just a few moments where the movie feels like they just didn't know what to do with the characters all that much (Sidelining Thunk to a couch for most of the movie is a good example). The first movie was a great journey story, but most of this one sits tight in one, too-good-to-be-true paradise land that is one long joke on modern times and how different they are from prehistoric times. A New Age moves at a rapid pace and is filled with plenty of gags and action to keep you from getting bored, but it's definitely a couple steps down from its predecessor in every way.
On the other hand, again, if one doesn't take it too seriously, it's decent entertainment that is upbeat, joyful, and some escapism during a season of life that is just so serious and stressful. In the extras for the movie, which featured interviews entirely captured on webcams, serving as a firm reminder of the pandemic-ridden world we're living in, the cast stressed how much a light and fun movie is needed right now, and I definitely can't argue with that. There is a real chance that repeat viewings will reveal more appreciation from me for this film, but after revisiting the original and then watching this sequel, I can say with certainty that I found it disappointing.
The content is fairly mild, but definitely of the PG variety. My 10-year-old son is probably more timid and squeamish than most his age, and I think he'd have a problem with some of the action and creatures in this one (He hasn't seen the first one either, largely for the same concerns). In the 2013 movie, we learn that Guy's parents got stuck in tar and died. This movie OPENS with a cute little toddler version of Guy standing in front of his parents who are stuck in tar, and they're telling him to go save himself. It's a pretty tense moment to kick-off a kids movie. The only language in the movie is one use of "sucks" and then there's a sequence where a woman is screaming and some clearly choice words are drowned out by the loud sounds of ice ripping through the ground. We don't know what she says, but we see other characters reacting in horror to what they hear. There is no graphic content, but there's a gag about Eep having a prosthetic "peanut toe" where she's missing a pinky toe and a peanut shell is in its place. We briefly see her remove it to show characters a couple times. We also see close-ups of some scars on her body that she shows off for Dawn in one scene. Otherwise, we see a character's hand swell up like a balloon when we see it impaled with a bee stinger, and there's a running gag where a stick or log gets suddenly jammed into a creature's eye and they scream (all played for laughs). Finally, there's some peril and slapstick humor involving a large number of "punch monkeys," some of which children may be inclined to imitate, but it's mostly played for laughs (even though they do threaten the main characters' lives at times).
The Croods: A New Age is a little polarizing; it's hardly a terrible movie, but it's not a great sequel to what is a pretty good original movie. Fans of the 2013 movie may be more split on it, while newcomers who especially enjoy today's brand of PC entertainment will probably find a lot to love about this new age of The Croods.- John DiBiase (reviewed: 2/26/21)
Deleted Scenes (23:34) - There are over 20 minutes of deleted scenes and ideas. Each sequence is introduced by director Joel Crawford and presented in its unfinished storyboard form. They're all bits that they cut mostly for time. Scenes include "Thunk's Mirror," "Grug's Stakeout," "Mancave V1," "Mancave V2," "Parrotclam Forest," "Phil Fails," "Guy Gets Mad," and "Supercut Thunk and Douglas."
How to Draw: Caveman Style (29:34) - If you'd like to learn how to draw some of the film's characters, Story Artist Heidi Jo Gilbert introduces a series of drawing tutorials and then guides the viewer in how to slowly draw their own versions of Eep, Dawn, Guy, Grug, Phil, Gran, Belt, and Sash (Surprisingly, there are no examples of how to draw Thunk or Hope)
Stone Age Snack Attack (6:00) - These are quick little recipes on how to make some healthy snacks that have a Croods theme to them: "Fancy Fruit Leathers" (2:20), "Shark Milk Smoothies" (1:26), and "Supersized Surprise" (2:15).
Dear Diary: World's First Pranks (2:55) - This is a new animated short that features somewhat cheesy hand-drawn animation of the girls, Eep and Dawn, playing pranks on everyone -- like dumping stuff on Guy right out of the shower, or knocking over a porta potty.
Family Movie Night: Little Red Broana Bread (3:39) - Dawn narrates a paper puppet show about Eep's adventure delivering bronana bread to Gran. It's pretty well done, to the point where I couldn't tell if it's computer animation to look like animated paper, or it's a real paper puppet show.
Gag Reel (1:52) - This is a fun little collection of outtakes from the recording booth, featuring Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Kelly Marie Tran, and Clark Duke.
To: Gerard (7:25) - This is a Pixar-esque short story about a lowly mail room worker who dreams of being a professional magician. While he's working, a little girl wanders into his workspace and he performs a coin trick for her. Years later, when he's elderly and still working the same mundane job, he receives a mysterious invitation to a magician's magic show... It's a beautiful story that's actually better than the movie.
The Croods' Family Album (8:24) - This is a behind-the-scenes featurette that covers the film's star-studded cast. It features interviews with them recorded over web cams, as well as in-studio footage from when they recorded their dialog for the movie.
The Evolution of... (10:17) is about making a sequel. This segment features interviews with the cast and crew about the spirit of the movie: family, fun, and friends. (1 surprising "p*ss off" from the director).
Famileaf Album (2:58) is a short little tutorial on how to make a family album using crafts.
Feature Commentary (1:35:14) - Finally, there's a feature-length commentary with Director Joel Crawford, Producer Mark Swift, Head of Story Januel Mercado and Editor Jim Ryan.- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 2/25/21)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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