The Croods: A New Age
A fun sequel that proves to be a beacon for this year's family genre
It might seem counterintuitive, but family entertainment during lockdown has been scarce. With kids stuck at home, studying online, the likes of new family movies are in high demand. However, studios have greedily held back releasing many of these pictures since they know that they prove to be incredibly lucrative at the box office. A family film has a higher probability of being watched more than once in theaters than any other genre, and a ticket has to be paid for both the child(ren) and the accompanying parent. At home a studio can only charge one rental price, not knowing how many children or people in general make up a family that is watching it on the couch. So far this year, Universal studios has been one of the few bold enough to debut its family films both in whatever theaters are open and the home video market; first with Trolls World Tour (2020) back in the spring, and now with The Croods: A New Age (2020).
The Croods: A New Age is the sequel to The Croods (2013); the rather successful critical and box-office hit, whose sequel languished in development hell as its parent studio DreamWorks was acquired by Comcast-Universal. In this sequel we continue to follow the Croods, the family of cavemen living in a fantastical prehistory. This time they encounter a more technologically advanced family: the Bettermans. The differences in culture prove to clash between both families leading to a reckoning of their own beliefs and customs.
The Croods proved to be a delightfully original film in 2013. It had a witty sense of humor, making good use of wordplay and puns regarding their lack of technology or society. There was a clear-cut arc of going from point A to point B in the first film and played around with the familiar themes of overprotective father and a curious and daring child. However, it was done with a creative new setting, some delightful choice of humor, and a rather intriguing narrative and exploration. In its essence, the first Croods was not only doling out lessons about family but doing a further exploration about humanity and our place and role on the planet. It’s this deep message that made that first film be an awards darling, nominated for that year’s Oscar for Best Animated Film. With its conclusion, however, I felt like The Croods didn’t warrant a sequel, as the ambiguous future for the family fit well with the philosophical ponderings of the film.
However, as with any financial hit, a sequel was demanded. A New Age proves to be an enjoyable flick, even though it is retreading much of the same ground as the first film. We go around the same journey with the Crood patriarch Grugg (Nicolas Cage), as he becomes overprotective of his family regarding the Bettermans, and again we see how the acceptance of something new and being independent is the real answer to living in harmony. A New Age eschews the more philosophical ponderings of the first film for some more mainstream subplots and themes of the romance between Guy and Croods daughter Eep (Emma Stone) and running gags about the use of technology and its reflection on today’s society. However, I was never expecting a sequel to have the same depth as the first film, second parts rarely do; and I was actually rather pleased with how A New Age held up the charm and enjoyment from the first film.
It is no mistake that the plot of A New Age heavily explores the polarized division between two differing ideologies; it isn’t exactly subtle what it’s trying to reflect. However, not much of A New Age is subtle. Its jokes are just as blunt as in the first film, and yet their obvious simplicity is utterly hilarious. There were various moments, perfectly edited and staged, that had me rewinding with laughter to play again. Thematically, the subject of division and tolerance is explored well if rather predictably. However, I was particularly pleased with one specific focus that the film adapted from the first film. The first Croods was quite exceptional and lauded for its depiction of strong and autonomous female characters and, given how the championing of female heroes has become even more popular now, A New Age makes a further emphasis on this. The female characters prove to be the more physical, while the men prove to be the more emotional. I found this to be an incredibly refreshing gender role reversal, and was delighted by how matter-of-fact the theme was approached.
As with the first film there are some truly original creature and world (wolf-spiders, punch-monkeys, etc.). The animation is breathtaking, a seven year difference between both films is very noticeable, with the attention to detail and photorealism making big advances. I was especially taken aback with how animators rendered sweat on its characters as they fought, or the composition of hair, which is practically photorealistic. The voice work is also up to expectations. It was great to have the original voice cast return in its entirety, and the additions of Leslie Mann, Peter Dinklage, and Kelly Marie-Tran as the Bettermans are very welcome; they prove to be as strong and committed as the old guard.
In the end, The Croods: A New Age proves to be a rather fun, if frankly too-familiar, retread of the first film. The jokes are inclusive enough that even adults will have a good time. The values and themes are rather important even if bluntly exposed. The epic proportions and philosophical context of the first film is sadly brushed aside, giving way for a much less exciting finale. Nevertheless, in a time when family movies are scarce, A New Age proves to be a good and enjoyable option.