An age has passed since we last saw The Croods (2013) on-screen.
Its modest box-office take and rocky (pun intended) reception, not to mention countless production delays and the career glow-up of its affable cast (particularly from Oscar-winning Emma Stone and Deadpool star Ryan Reynolds), had put the likelihood of a sequel on the endangered species list.
Alas(!), no longer facing extinction, this buzzing sequel – coming to us from the hands of Joel Crawford (who makes his directorial debut) – offers an improvement on its predecessor – coming alive with striking visual flair, a deep sense of imagination, and a caveperson sized serving of heart.
Not much has changed in the seven years since we last saw the close-knit Crood family; their everyday still greeted by a new threat to their survival. The daily struggle to survive both environmental calamity and a litany of sharp-toothed beasts out for flesh is performed with the same ballet-like rambunctiousness of a Crusty Demons show.
Doting teenage lovebirds, Eep (Stone) and the recently adopted Guy (Reynolds), remain infatuated; unable to break stare nor go a hot-minute without a smitten hello. Their impending desire to break away from the pack, brought to the (still) smothering gaze of daddy Crood, Grug (Nicolas Cage), sets the brawny family off on a kaleidoscopically colourful journey full of new challenges. These hurdles include engaging with high-energy critters that communicate through punch (out to give the minions a run for their money) and, perhaps even more terrifying than any blood-thirsty beast, the fear of empty-nesting.
The latter of these horrors being exacerbated by newcomers, the Betterman’s; a well-postured and sanctimonious mum-dad-daughter unit (Hope (Leslie Mann), Phil (a scene-stealing Peter Dinklage) and Dawn (the perpetually delightful Kelly Marie Tran)); their wits being as sharp and as dangerous as any wooden spear. Stumbling onto the Betterman’s idyllic, Swiss Family Robinson-style abode, the Croods face a danger unlike any other paleolithic foe: classism.
The Betterman’s elitist ways, stemming from their own survivalist worries (and delivered with the same level of wilful condescension as patrons attending a yoga retreat), imbues upon A New Age an added layer of thematics otherwise lacking in the first instalment. If the 2013 film taught the Croods that they no longer need to hide from their problems, the second asks what to do when there is no longer a need to run. The screenplay goes deep without overpowering otherwise joyful layers–brought on by the films cleverly pun-tastic, but never overwhelmingly silly, sense-of-humour. The likes of which carried-out impeccably by a stellar voice-cast, with the supporting family members being filled by returning talent: Cloris Leachman, Catherine Keener and Clark Duke.
Acknowledgement ought to be given towards the film’s presentation of female characters. To share detail would be to lessen the experience of watching the film. However, and without spoiling, their portrayal in A New Age by far transcends the prehistoric stereotypes brought on by films prior.
The animation, gorgeously textured and psychedelic in vibrancy, brings to life dynamic landscapes and bold spectacle that reveal the heaviness of stakes. (Dare it be said that few scenes blatantly harken back to How to Train your Dragon-esque levels of profound visual storytelling.) It ascends to the gold standard of CG animation that cinema-goers have come to expect, with Crawford adding his directorial mark through punctuating long-shots that denote characters isolation and the playful use of close-ups to create many of the films biggest laughs.
Where Pixar films have copped criticism for their endemic sameness, so too has Dreamwork’s films dabbled in dramatic familiarity. The blueprint of which reads like paintings in cave walls. That said, The Croods: A New Age does not get bogged down in tar-like superficiality. It is an evolution from the first film, brought on by dazzling animation and a welcomed sense of progressiveness.
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