Back in 2013, The Croods became a meme without anything from the movie actually going viral. Oh, it was a pleasant enough film (“[it] isn’t particularly smart, but it has just enough wit to keep us engaged and just enough speed to keep us from feeling restless,” I said in in my review) and a sizable hit, too — a rare non-sequel blockbuster for Dreamworks Animation at the time. But, somehow, the picture became a punch line, a poster child for high-concept, grab-all-the-money-while-you-can bluntness. Maybe it was the dull simplicity of its premise: a prehistoric family engages in death-defying shenanigans while outrunning the apocalypse. Or could it simply have been the dim-bulb musicality of that title? Go on, say, “Croods” out loud a few times, and be sure to extend that “oo” as much as you can; I guarantee you’ll feel both better and dumber.
New movies in 2020 don’t really become memes anymore — at least not in our current dystopian holding pattern — so it may not matter one way or the other that The Croods: A New Age essentially presents the same conflict as the first film did, between brute force and wit, between fear and knowledge, only with a somewhat more pointed and timely slant. After a prologue that shows us how Guy (Ryan Reynolds), the smarty-pants dreamer who helped save the titular cave family in the first film, became an orphaned wanderer, the new movie picks up where the previous one left off. The Croods are still looking for a new place to call home. Guy is continuing to romance Eep (Emma Stone) under the watchful gaze of her paranoid father, Grug (Nicolas Cage).
The family eventually finds itself in an idyllic land run by a rather modern-looking couple, Hope and Phil Betterman (Leslie Mann and Peter Dinklage, respectively), who have managed to pioneer advanced farming methods alongside newfangled concepts like clothes, soap, and privacy. The Bettermans, it turns out, were friends of Guy’s now-deceased parents. They disdain the Croods’ uncouth ways and are somewhat outraged that Guy is engaged to Eep instead of their own daughter, Dawn (Kelly Marie Tran). It’s a dynamic ripe for confrontational, culture-war bivouacking: The fey, man-bunned Phil and the nice-on-the-outside, judgmental-on-the-inside Hope are exactly the kind of progressive 21st-century busybodies who
would have voted for Obama a third time we’re often told America loves to hate. (Let’s face it, even progressive 21st-century busybodies hate progressive 21st-century busybodies.) Next to them, the ignorant, slovenly Croods feel refreshingly salt of the earth. It’s like Idiocracy in reverse.
But that’s just the setup. This is an animated family film, after all, so we know that Hope and Phil and Grug and his wife, Ugga (Catherine Keener), will eventually set aside their differences to cooperate against a common enemy and that things will get entertainingly rollercoaster-y just like they did in the first movie. Back in 2013, The Croods’ elaborate, rapid-fire action sequences felt like typical studio animation pyrotechnics. Now, they’re a little more elaborate and a little more rapid-fire, but a lot less impressive. Still, the few clever Mad Max: Fury Road call-outs might help the film pander to grown-up viewers (while reminding us all over again how much Fury Road was basically a live-action cartoon).
More fun are the imaginative prehistoric beasts, from land-sharks to six-eyed spider-wolves to a tribe of “punch monkeys” that has developed a language that consists entirely of, well, punches and slaps. This was one of the strengths of the first picture, too: You sensed that the filmmakers had a blast inventing crazy new creatures for this primeval fantasy land. Oddly, it was one of the weaknesses of the first film, too: The more creative the world around the Croods got, the less interesting and more boilerplate the Croods’ actual story felt. But our world has changed as well, and one need not be too cruel to The Croods, a sentence I can’t believe I just typed. Once upon a time, saying a movie would help “pass the time” felt like damning with faint praise. Today, it feels like an essential service.
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