The Croods movies were always a little smarter than they let on, probably because the characters themselves are meant to seem…something less than intelligent. Of course, it helps that these animated movies have one of the best voice casts of any animated series around right now, including Nicolas Cage as dad/husband Grug, Catherine Keener as mom/wife Ugga, Emma Stone as daughter Eep, Clark Duke as son Thunk, and the legendary Cloris Leachman as Gran. These are actors with big personalities who are also wildly funny, each bringing a great deal of heart to their cave-people characters when necessary. In the first film, they meet up with the slightly higher-brow Guy (Ryan Reynolds), who takes a shine to the rough-around-the-edges Eep, much to the dismay of Grug. Guy’s background was always a little fuzzy, so of course, that’s the centerpiece of The Croods: A New Age.
After a lifetime of surviving a world where everything essentially wants to eat them, the Crood family stumbles upon a hidden place that appears safe; they can spread out, eat to their hearts’ content and not worry about fanged and clawed prehistoric beasts. Unfortunately, this new protected place belongs to the Betterman family (nothing subtle of that), which consists of dad Phil (Peter Dinklage), mom Hope (Leslie Mann), and their daughter Dawn (Kelly Marie Tran). It just so happens that the Bettermans used to be best friends with Guy’s parents before their untimely demise and Guy’s getting lost out in the wild world. It all makes this reunion also a bit of a homecoming, and the Bettermans intend to make sure Guy doesn’t leave again.
Just before this discovery, Guy and Eep had been discussing the possibility of branching out on their own, away from her family, in order to get some much needed privacy. Eep was hesitant to leave the pack, but she also loves Guy, so she manages to talk herself into leaving right when their plans get sidetracked. Complicating things slightly is that Eep and Dawn actually become great friends and don’t feel the need to battle over Guy just because their parents are headed in that direction. A New Age works as a fish-out-of-water story, a tortured love story about a lot of indecisive young people, and a place where artistic creativity has a place to shine.
Much like the first film, a standout element of A New Age are the wild animal creations that usually involve combining two or three creatures, like the freaky wolf-spider. First-time feature director Joel Crawford (who worked in the animation departments on such films as Bee Movie, all three Kung Fu Panda movies, Trolls and the second LEGO Movie) has a real gift for keeping things colorful, kinetic, emotionally honest, and damn funny, in varying doses. Watching the Croods navigate “modern” conveniences like walls and windows is pretty hilarious most of the time and rarely feels like like it’s pandering to younger audiences (except perhaps during some of the action sequences).
But it’s the strength and inherent charm of the performers that elevates The Croods films above the otherwise fairly basic and uninspired storytelling. The overall visuals hit a sweet spot for me. Most of the time, they aren’t especially complex or original. But every once in a while, they spring something on us that is truly mind-blowing and beautiful, and while I wait for those moments, I let myself enjoy the company of this loving, humorous family that is working out its issues but learning to evolve, in more ways than one. There’s even a makeshift, female-led superhero team (led by Gran!) thrown in for a little zing, and they’re incredible. All totaled, I think The Croods: A New Age is one of the more interesting animated offerings this year. That being said, there’s at least one more to come that kind of blows most things—animated or otherwise—out of the water. How’s that for a tease?