The Croods: A New Age Review: A Delightfully Strange Sequel That Outshines the Original
You may not know it, but DreamWorks has made a sequel to the 2013 animated caveman movie, The Croods. It may come as an even bigger surprise to learn that the new sequel, The Croods: A New Age, is actually hitting theaters on Thanksgiving. Yes, Thanksgiving 2020. Thanks to a deal with AMC, Universal and DreamWorks are able to release The Croods: A New Age in whatever theaters are still open on November 25th, followed by an on-demand release just a couple of weeks later. Despite the imminent debut, it seems like there's been very little advertising for a movie that would usually get a lot of attention from the studio. There hasn't been much advertising, there isn't a lot of merchandise on the shelves of stores, and hardly anyone is talking about the new Croods. It's a shame, really, because the film itself is an absolute blast.
The Croods: A New Age picks up after the events of the first movie, as Grug (Nicolas Cage) and his pack continue their search for Tomorrow. Eep (Emma Stone) and Guy (Ryan Reynolds) are planning to start their own life together, much to Grug's dismay, when they discover a perfectly serene piece of paradise that they can all feel happy calling their home. The land, as it turns out, belongs to the Betterman family, a more modern unit that utilizes tools and inventions, rather than brute strength. Phil (Peter Dinklage) and Hope (Leslie Mann) were close friends with Guy's parents, who died when he was young, while Dawn (Kelly Marie Tran) was his good childhood friend.
Introducing this new family into the fold brings about no shortage of interesting dynamics. Grug and Phil struggle throughout the film over their clashing "brains vs. brawn" ideologies. Guy feels at home, causing Eep to be concerned he won't want to continue on with her family. There's a bit of a love triangle going on with Eep, Guy, and Dawn, but only because Dawn's parents continue trying to arrange it. There is no end to the amount of individual stories that can be told with these two clashing families, and the film explores quite a few of them.
See, these new characters, and the zany possibilities created by the colorful world they live in, are exactly what this franchise needed. The relationship between Eep and Guy can only carry the saga so far, especially when Grug was the only thing standing in their way. This new family changed the game, and the overhaul of the entire creative team seems to have paid off, because this film moves in an entirely new direction, one that isn't afraid to swing for each and every fence it encounters.
The first Croods is pretty standard, middle-of-the-road stuff for its first hour or so, but the final 30 minutes, when it breaks out of its comfort zone, is nothing short of wonderful. A New Age has a similar slow start, though it doesn't nearly last as long. Once the Bettermans show up, the script takes off, and the imaginations of its writers (all four of which worked on the LEGO and/or Shrek film franchises) starts to soar.
Seriously, imagination is an understatement. This movie gets downright weird at times and I mean that in the best way possible. From a war with a group of martial arts monkeys to the taming of a family of literal wolf-spiders, there's nothing the film isn't willing to try, and it works about 90% of the time. For the entire third act, the trio of Grug, Phil, and Guy split off on their own, leaving all of the women to chase after them. It seems like a strange idea to split up the many of the central conflicts in the film, but the decision actually turns out to be one of the best in either film. The women, who will be triumphantly remembered as The Thunder Sisters from here until eternity, take the baton and completely run away with the entire movie. Gran (Cloris Leachman) was severely underutilized in The Croods, but she returns with a vengeance, snatching the MVP honors from the rest of her family.
Adding to the strangeness of the film is Nic Cage himself. The first movie got a solid performance out of Cage, which is to be expected, but director Joel Crawford lets him completely off the leash this time around. There is no cage holding him back (so, so sorry), and the beloved actor turns in his best and most expressive voice work to-date. Kelly Marie Tran also finds a way to outshine both Emma Stone and Ryan Reynolds, which we all know is hard to do, giving Dawn an incredibly memorable debut.
It may not be common knowledge that The Croods: A New Age exists, and there are probably some people who vaguely remember the first and ask if we really need another one. Well, much to my surprise, the answer is a resounding "Yes." Tucked away in the vast desert that is 2020's entertainment landscape, The Croods: A New Age is a strange and colorful oasis, much like the home of the Bettermans, and you're going to want to stick around as long as they'll let you.
Rating: 4 out of 5
The Croods: A New Age arrives in theaters on November 25th.