April 19, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

‘The Croods: A New Age’ review: A sweetly chaotic follow-up

The Times is committed to reviewing theatrical film releases during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because moviegoing carries risks during this time, we remind readers to follow health and safety guidelines as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health officials.

It’s been a while since the 2013 animated walkabout with the close-knit caveman clan “The Croods,” and the question is: Was the wait for sequel “The Croods: A New Age” worth it? The feature directorial debut of longtime animation story artist Joel Crawford, who worked on the “Kung Fu Panda” movies for DreamWorks Animation, the production company behind “Croods,” this movie can best be described as “chaotic good.” It’s a blend of smart, irreverent humor coupled with eye-popping, neon-Technicolor animation that moves fast and furiously across the screen.

Both films boast a wealth of voice talent, including Oscar winners Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone and Cloris Leachman, along with Ryan Reynolds, Catherine Keener and Clark Duke. For “A New Age,” Leslie Mann, Peter Dinklage and Kelly Marie Tran have been added to the mix, as the clingy crowd of Croods encounters a new family, the Bettermans, whose existence threatens their way of life.

That lifestyle is par for the course for your average caveman: a nomadic routine of hunting and gathering. Initially, the only problem plaguing patriarch Grug (Cage) is the chemistry between teens Eep (Stone) and Guy (Reynolds), his daughter and the orphaned boy they picked up along the way in the first movie. Worried they’ll run off together to make their own home, or “find their tomorrow,” as Guy puts it, Grug thinks he’s found the solution to keeping his tribe together when he happens upon a lush, candy-colored land of plenty behind a tall bamboo wall.

However, this is the domain of Phil (Dinklage) and Hope (Mann) Betterman, a pair of groovy, evolved bohemian homo sapiens, who once knew Guy and his family. The passive-aggressive pair quickly set designs on dividing Guy from Eep, and connecting him with their daughter, Dawn (Tran). High jinks and misunderstandings ensue, with Guy taking to the creature comforts of “privacy,” hygiene and simple machines that the Bettermans can provide, while Dawn gets a taste for adventure with the wild woman Eep. All the while, the parents bicker and scheme about which way of life is better: rough-and-tumble togetherness or bougie individuality? The Croods are torn over whether or not they want to be keeping up with the Bettermans at all.

When a banana shortage causes a feud with a troop of angry punch monkeys, the two tribes have to learn to work together, compromise, communicate and comprehend the different strengths that everyone brings to the table. All this messaging is very much on the surface, the lessons about sharing resources (especially with the punch monkeys) and strength in unity clearly spelled out.

The journey is still fun, though harried. The animation design is bright and colorful, moving as swiftly as the snappy dialogue (the screenplay is by Kevin Hageman, Dan Hageman, Paul Fisher, Bob Logan, Kirk DeMicco and Chris Sanders). The writers use familiar tropes but switch them up just enough to feel fresh and contemporary, and there are some clever bits, including a riff on an ’80s hair metal video and Thunk’s (Duke) obsession with watching the prehistoric boob tube: a window.

But because the movie starts at an 11 and doesn’t let up, the runtime feels overly long. However, the voice performances are excellent, especially that of Cage, who brings his signature sense of yearning pathos to Grug the Neanderthal. Watching the Crood patriarch get with the Pliocene Era and learn to embrace the new does seemingly make all that chaos worthwhile.

Katie Walsh is a Tribune News Service film critic.

‘The Croods: A New Age’

Rating: PG, for peril, action and rude humor

Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes

Playing: Starts Nov. 25 at Regency Plant 16 Drive-In, Van Nuys; Mission Tiki Drive-In, Montclair; Paramount Drive-In, Paramount; and in general release where theaters are open