When I first heard there was going to be a sequel to The Croods coming out in 2020, I admit I was a bit surprised. I remember liking the original well enough, but I figured that the fact there wasn’t an instant follow-up, like so many animation studios do, meant that the property didn’t get the response the suits wanted. For example, although DreamWorks produced both films, the first was distributed by Fox, whereas this one was officially put out by Universal. So I must concede that it felt a little bit out of left field. That said, around the same time I also learned that there’s a Boss Baby sequel on the way, which, NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Please, give me anything to distract me from that knowledge.
As animated sequels go, The Croods: A New Age is about as generic as its title. There’s not much added to the overall universe created with the 2013 original, the same themes are basically rehashed with some new characters thrown in, and the pop cultural references are a mixed bag at best. At the same time, what the film got right last time it gets right again, there’s nothing truly offensive or cringeworthy, and I can’t deny that I was laughing pretty much the whole way in spite of the logical inconsistencies.
Before the action resumes, the film opens with a brief flashback to Guy (Ryan Reynolds, who in the seven years since the first film went from Hollywood annoyance to bona fide superstar), his parents’ deaths in a tar pit, and his quest to find “tomorrow,” which leads him to his pet sloth, Belt, and to the titular Croods, including his lady love, Eep (Emma Stone). Back in the movie’s present day, the “pack” continues to look for “tomorrow” and a permanent home, basically all done in a montage set to “I Think I Love You” that you never knew you needed. Seriously, it doesn’t get much lamer than David bloody Cassidy, but it was ironically delightful. It also helps that the film continues to employ the illogical yet eye-popping visuals of constantly changing environments and ecosystems at the drop of a hat, letting you know that the animation team is capable of some gorgeous sights in addition to the slapstick and shoehorned father/daughter conflicts.
Eventually, the family finds a lush jungle locale, and patriarch Grug (Nicolas Cage) gets the family caught in a trap trying to reach for a banana, of which he magically has a drooling fixation. Here’s my inner monologue: “Please don’t let this turn into a Minions movie. Please don’t let this turn into a Minions movie. Please don’t let this turn into a goddamn Minions movie. They’re done by completely different production companies even if Universal distributes them both. PLEA-EA-EA-EA-EASE don’t let this turn into a Minions movie!”
We are at least spared a cameo from the most annoying creatures this side of an anti-vax chat room with the appearance of the Betterman family. Yes, my eyes roll at the name, but it’s not like “Crood” was ever glorious wordplay. They’re presented as a more “evolved” subspecies of humanity, led by father Phil (Peter Dinklage), wife Hope (Leslie Mann), and daughter Dawn (Kelly Marie Tran). They’ve set themselves up in a sort of Swiss Family Robinson-style treehouse and used to be friends with Guy’s family, making them overjoyed at his survival.
The Bettermans invite the Croods to stay for a while, and cultural mismatch hijinks ensue. See, the Bettermans also have to personify their punny name by being, let’s just say it, hipster douchebags. They condescend to the Croods, passive-aggressively try to insert their way of life as inherently superior (including giving a good-bye fruit basket to Catherine Keener’s Ugga), and Phil’s prehistoric man-bun is even more obnoxious than Guy’s. It also doesn’t help that they immediately try to pull Guy away from Eep and hook him up with Dawn, who they’ve sheltered from the outside world by building a giant wall around their section of the forest. It’s like they’re a combination of gentrified know-it-alls and low-key racist MAGA suburbanites, the worst of both worlds.
The story goes in predictable directions. Phil tries to exploit Grug’s more base instincts to get rid of the family, and his personal rule against anyone eating bananas – which he never explains until it’s WAY too late, because why have a competent screenplay? – inevitably puts everyone in danger when Grug and Ugga decide to act out in more savage ways as a rebuttal to the repeated slights. Thunk (Clark Duke) becomes enamored with a window and watches the world outside it like he’s binge-watching TV in a running joke that consistently falls flat.
On the other hand, the film does find the tiniest bit of nuance in the blossoming friendship between Dawn and Eep. Their parents are trying to make them romantic rivals, but they just love getting to know one another, from Dawn escaping to the outside world and learning how to be a scavenger, to Eep delighting in a true rapport with another girl for the first time in her life, including showing off a prosthetic toe, which only exists when it’s convenient to the plot, but it’s still oddly sweet. And while the film does rehash the previous outing’s theme about men being piggish in all forms, there’s at least some fun to be had with it, mostly through Gran’s (Cloris Leachman) over-the-top enthusiasm for her erstwhile “Thundersisters,” which pays off spectacularly.
There’s a lot that works in this movie and a lot that doesn’t, but honestly, when it’s all said and done I had a good time. I enjoyed myself. I laughed. In a year as shitty as 2020, that’s no small feat. Yes, the plot is basic to the point of being insulting, creating new characters who don’t earn any of the pathos or affection they get by the end. But at the same time, the animation is still pretty great, and for every time the “window” gags fail, there’s some hilarious “translation” of a “Punch-Monkey” language to make up for it. For every cliché of asshole thrown together around the parents, there’s a clever hybrid animal created for either a one-off joke or a plot device, especially the Arctic Wolf Spiders, which means exactly what you think it does. Overall, this is clearly a sequel that didn’t need to be made, or it would have been years ago. But that said, I’m still more glad for it than some other sequels that wasted mine and everyone else’s time (*COUGHWONDERWOMANCOUGH*), so I can’t hate on it too much.
Join the conversation in the comments below! What film should I review next? Were you a fan of the original? Do you get thoughts that confuse and scare you whenever Eep grins? Let me know!