‘The Croods: A New Age’: Prehistoric Family Lessons Get Trippy Visuals
“The Croods: A New Age” is full of innocent fun but lots of trippy visuals. Like its predecessor, 2013’s surprise smash “The Croods,” it also has a simple yet direct message about how families struggle with change. The once cave-dwelling Croods may be walking around psychedelic prehistoric landscapes, but their insecurities are pretty modern, as well as their new clash with an uptight urban (in Stone Age terms) couple. “A New Age” is opening in select cities, but with the pandemic picking up again, hopefully it will be available soon for purchase or rental. Families would have a good time enjoying this one safely at home.
The action picks up right where the last film ended. The Croods are still together, including dad Grug (Nicolas Cage), mom Ugga (Catherine Keener), daughter Eep (Emma Stone), siblings Thunk (Clark Duke) and wild infant Sandy (Kailey Crawford), and of course, Gran (Cloris Leachman). Now they are joined by Guy (Ryan Reynolds), the young fellow prehistoric human that captured Eep’s heart with his inventive ways in the first movie, with amazing inventions like footwear. Riding their Macawnivore, Chunky (basically a big fluffy saber-tooth) the clan is still seeking a better “Tomorrow,” meaning a better home than the unstable wilderness. After traveling long distances they come across what appears to be a dazzling paradise of lush fruits and waterfalls. It’s actually the home of the “Bettermans,” Phil (Peter Dinklage) and Hope (Leslie Mann), who believe in an orderly, clean existence. They make sure to keep their daughter, Dawn (Kelly Marie Tran), cloistered behind their high walls. It also turns out the Bettermans were friends of Guy’s late parents, who died in a tragic tar pit accident. As the Croods begin to overstay their welcome, the Bettermans scheme to keep Guy and kick out the savage cavemen.
Do not sit any child down to watch “The Croods: A New Age” so they can learn about prehistory. This is an enjoyable romp for its sheer, hallucinatory visual cheer and simple messaging. Director Joel Crawford and the animation team are looking more towards the ‘60s than 10,000 B.C. for inspiration. Consider that the movie opens and closes with “I Think I Love You” by The Partridge Family cut to slow motion shots that border on avant-garde. When the Croods stumble into the Eden of the Bettermans they munch on psychedelic-colored fruits and discover wooly mammoths (or “Moommoths”) with cow designs. Eep entices Dawn to sneak out for a ride on Chunky and they crash into a honeycomb landscape, the saber-tooth then dangles from inside a giant drop of honey. Other sights include land sharks making a passage of high rock towers even more dangerous and a rampaging tribe of “punch monkeys” who plan to sacrifice their victims to some unseen monstrosity in the jungle. By the end of this movie warrior women will ride wolves and Chunky into battle, complete with Haim on the soundtrack crooning “Feel the Thunder” with 80s-style titles popping out on screen. Lest you think the animators wouldn’t hint at their sources of inspiration, one of the warriors is slyly called “Bog Water.”
Beneath all the layers of eye candy, “A New Age” still retains a sweet, “Croods” worthy storyline. In the first movie Grug grappled with the adventurous Eep rebelling against his rules, such as always hiding in a cave at night, and feeling Guy as an intruder with all of his impressive ideas. Now that Guy and Eep are officially a thing, Grug feels “Father of the Bride” syndrome when the young lovers talk about moving out into their own place (or cave). Yet he and Eep both face an identity crisis when the Bettermans try to turn Guy into someone more suited for their world. The Bettermans themselves are a hilarious commentary on American class differences. Phil has a manbun and hides out in his “man cave,” which is a sauna with stalagmites that emit steam. Hope is obsessed with manners, proper disposal of garbage and soap. They are ancient suburbanites while the Croods are dirty city people. Dinklage’s voice acting is particularly masterful to the point where you expect to bump into Phil at the nearest Starbucks. Nicolas Cage also again feels quite at home as Grug. Something about the role, which involves lots of grunting and bamboo smashing, lets him indulge in the kind of loud, manic personalities that have defined him so much in all his recent characters.
The Croods are almost like a prehistoric version of the Conner family from “Roseanne.” They are down to earth and used to hardship. When Eep takes Dawn out for a ride on Chunky it’s the equivalent of a scrappy kid giving a sheltered privileged one a taste of danger. It’s nice to see a family movie still poke at conformity, even if it spirals in its last act into a loud action fest where even Gran’s hair flies off like some kind of war bird. Cat lovers can rejoice that Chunky is more of a presence in this movie. Eep rides him as if he were the family car and he remains the sweetest ancient feline ever conjured for a motion picture. But the key message at the end is that family and friends are important because we all need help sometimes. Combine that with druggy animation and flying saber-toothed tigers and you have a prehistoric brew that won’t evolve into boredom.
“The Croods: A New Age” releases Nov. 25 in select cities and will be available in December on VOD.