Combustible Celluloid
With: Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Catherine Keener, Cloris Leachman, Clark Duke, Leslie Mann, Peter Dinklage, Kelly Marie Tran (voices)
Written by: Kevin Hageman, Dan Hageman, Paul Fisher, Bob Logan, based on a story by Kirk DeMicco
Directed by: Joel Crawford
MPAA Rating: PG for peril, action and rude humor
Running Time: 95
Date: 11/25/2020

The Croods: A New Age (2020)

3 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Arriving seven years after the original The Croods (2013) and debuting in theaters in time for pandemic Thanksgiving, The Croods: A New Age is a surprisingly decent sequel.

Even so, the concept was never promising. The name "crood," which sounds like "crude" as in "crude humor," sounds like a sure invitation to a barrage of tired, bathroom-type jokes.

The thick, thuggish-looking character design was also off-putting, especially in stills or posters.

But — like the odd characters in the animated features Early Man and Missing Link — in motion, and with voices, the characters proceed in smooth, stretch-and-squash fashion, and they're quite graceful and lovable.

The sequel continues that look, as well as a bright, bursting color scheme, and an imaginative array of flora and fauna.

Creatures like kanga-dillos, land sharks, and what appear to be trees that suddenly lift up and take flight like huge dragonflies, populate the landscape.

As for the story, it actually flows logically from the 2013 movie. The Croods: A New Age begins with a brief flashback, showing the backstory of Guy (voiced by Ryan Reynolds).

Losing his parents to a tar pit, Guy's mother tells him to move toward the light and search for "his tomorrow." He does just that, moving and moving, finding his constant companion "Belt," growing up, and meeting the Crood family. But he still hasn't found his "tomorrow."

Now, Guy and Eep (voiced by Emma Stone) are in a typical teen romance, unable to stop making googoo eyes at each other, sneaking kisses, or baby-talking. One night, Eep's overprotective father Grug (voiced by Nicolas Cage) overhears them talking about finding a place of their own.

About that time, they stumble upon a sanctuary, with gardens of food, and a tall fence to keep out pesky predators. This is the home of the more highly-evolved Betterman family, Phil (voiced by Peter Dinklage) and Hope (voiced by Leslie Mann), and their daughter Dawn (voiced by Kelly Marie Tran).

The Bettermans knew Guy's family, and they accept him with open arms.

The Croods, including mom Ugga (voiced by Catherine Keener), Gran (Cloris Leachman), and Eep's brother Thunk (voiced by Clark Duke), are also invited to stay for a while and to enjoy the luxuries therein, like showers and soft beds.

Thunk becomes entranced by a window, and sits and "watches" it day and night. Later, in a parody of our own technological obsession, he finds a smaller, handheld "window" and stares at it full-time.

The conflict is simple. The Bettermans want Guy to stay and couple up with their daughter. At the same time, Grug doesn't want to lose his daughter, while Eep and Guy get into their first big fight over the sanctuary and whether its wonders are really for them.

The movie concocts an additional threat, an unknown creature that must be plied nightly with bananas to keep it away, that turns things into a chase/rescue story.

But happily, the makers of The Croods: A New Age had the foresight to show the men being kidnapped, and the women banding together like warriors to save the day. Even though the movie was probably written half a decade ago, it perfectly anticipated the #MeToo movement.

Weirdly, the writers and directors of the original film, Kirk DeMicco and Chris Sanders, have been entirely replaced this time. (DeMicco retains a "story by" credit.)

The new director is Joel Crawford, a longtime Dreamworks artist, making his feature directorial debut, and the batch of writers are all animation veterans with varying writing experience, although they all seem to have worked on The Lego Ninjago Movie, of all things.

Regardless, the new movie isn't quite as funny as the original, which had the benefit of John Cleese as a co-writer.

The primitive warrior family being out-of-step with the more evolved inventor family is the basis of many jokes, but like Thunk's "window" obsession, they're mostly amusing little observations, rather than all-out laughs. The funniest stuff is, oddly, the bigger, more slapsticky humor.

Yet The Croods: A New Age still works, thanks to its excellent and appealing voice cast, and the gorgeous fluidity of the movement and colors. It settles into a painlessly comfortable groove where the concerns of the characters become the point of interest.

If families choose to emerge from their own caves this Thanksgiving to go to the movies, they could do worse.

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