Alex is a School of Visual Arts graduate with a passion for media, writing and animation. He writes reviews for film, television and games.
Talk about being stubborn and full of surprises when it comes to DreamWorks Animation. The company had quite a history collaborating with other studios and being under new management. Back in the mid-2000s when DreamWorks co-worked with British stop-motion studio Aardman, a project known as Crood Awakening was in development. But after their partnership expired, the project was shelved. Sometime later, former Disney animator Chris Sanders stepped in and retooled the project as The Croods after amazing the world with the first How to Train Your Dragon film. In 2013, the movie became a hit and a sequel was planned. Originally, Sanders was attached to direct again and it was going to focus on Ugga, the mother of the family. One year later, the studio suddenly had to go through changes after the financial disappointments of Mr. Peabody & Sherman and Penguins of Madagascar. At the same time, animators from their Redwood Division were laid off and several planned projects were cancelled, including the Croods sequel. For a lack of a better word, the project was extinct.
Until after Universal bought DreamWorks, news and marketing have showed the public that the prehistoric family had survived extinction. With rewrites, change in cast, and animator Joel Crawford making his directorial debut, the sequel managed to hit theaters just in time. It is most likely that The Croods franchise had gained some popularity during their time of absence due the success of the Netflix 2-D animated prequel television series, Dawn of the Croods. It goes to show that some good came out of a project.
Before discussing the sequel, a quick lookback of the previous film should be addressed. Generally speaking, a concept about cavemen or stone age families is nothing new, yet it can work in an unique direction. The story itself was standard with cliched characters, hit-and-miss humor, and a predictable plot. Then again, the plot gets easily overshadowed with colorful and creative animation, talented voice acting, and a bit of charm that Chris Sanders knew how to deliver. It's not up there with the classics like Shrek or Kung Fu Panda, but it is still a solid movie that families and Chris Sanders fans would enjoy. So, now that The Croods are back, how does the sequel fair up?
During their search for a new home, The Crood family and Guy (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) encounter a more advanced and civilized family known as The Bettermans. Both families must struggle and learn to adapt to their respective environments when a threat occurs.
For those who have seen the trailers or synopsis, it is an assumption that the story sounds conceptually similar to the previous movie. In fact, the first act kind of does. The Croods are looking for a new place to survive, they discover something new, most of the family easily adjusts to that discovery, the father Grug is doubtful and unintentionally causes conflict. Like before, it is also character-driven, such as the daughter Eep and Guy's blossoming relationship and Grug having a difficult time accepting change. The same also almost applies to the Betterman family. Despite being a more cultured family, they share some traits that are quite similar to the conflict of the film: an overprotective father and a sheltered daughter dreaming to seek into the outside world. More non-spoiler details about the characters will be discussed later.
However, once the threat occurs, this is where the entertainment and wow factor comes into the execution. The film crew knew making this sequel would be challenging and definitely put a lot of hard work and effort into remembering what made people liked about the first film. The rest of the story becomes more action-packed, emphasize on the creatures and environments, and some actual character development. Sure, it gets predictable but you'll be too busy laughing and awestruck at the artistry.
Speaking of laughing, the sequel is surprisingly funnier than the first film. Sure, there are bit of callbacks like Guy's pet sloth Belt making that dramatic sound effect. The film also continues making visual gags and dialogue about certain objects and gadgets that would mimic today's technology. For example, the son Thunk became fascinated with watching out a "window" rather playing outside with Douglas. The rest of the humor is actually subtle like translating an animal's language and some cleverly timed slapstick. The story definitely goes into familiar territory upon first impression, but you'll eventually have a fun time with everything else afterwards.
One element that the sequel magnificently continues and carries over from its predecessor is the animation quality. The Croods themselves maintain their grubby and brawny yet detailed designs with everything having a mix of smooth and comedic animation. The Bettermans' designs show an artistic contrast on looking more advanced humans: clean skin, braided hair, more clothing, wearing sandals with foley sound etc. The hybrid animals ala Avatar: The Last Airbender are still present and highly creative as before. We do get some returning animals like sloths, crocodile-dogs and sabre-tooth tigers with macaw colors. In this sequel, they expanded the species roster with kanga-dillos, chicken seals, wolf-spiders, punch-monkeys and more. The landscapes and environments that the characters ventures are once again very colorful and immersive. The Bettermans' home is a giant farmland full of large and luscious fruits and plants while heavily guarded by walls. They also reside in a treehouse full of separate rooms, hand-made mechanisms that would later become future appliances, and secret areas like a "man-cave." It's like living in a house from The Flintstones except more rural and organic. Other new areas include the punch-monkeys' lair, icy geysers and the wolf-spider cave. The climax is a lot of fun with imagery that looks like something out a 1980s heavy metal album cover. Like the previous film, we also get 2D animated sequences of cave drawings either as recaps or fantasies, which are a nice touch. If there is any setbacks, it would be two. The first is that the mentioned new locations don't rely on the massive scope, since we spend most of the time at the Bettermans' home than the outside world. Granted, during the first ten minutes, we do see new landscapes that the family travels through, but they were easily glanced over and focus more on Eep and Guy's romance as a montage. The second is a nitpick and a heads up for those who are...squeamish. There is a moment where one of the characters gets a bee sting and it is understandable that is played for laughs and the consequences of the character's actions. To be fair, it doesn't overstay its welcome and comes and goes fast. Nonetheless, the animation is quite an accomplishment and all that hard work has paid off.
One of the criticisms that the first movie had was that a few characters were cliched. Not that they were terribly written or anything, these were characters that we seen before and the actors' performances did help gave them personality. For the sequel, those characters almost have that same issue. Fortunately, like a real caveman, others have evolved with development. Let's start with the titular family. Grug is still the overprotective father who is having a difficult time letting Eep spend time alone with Guy or listening to the Bettermans' rules, especially not to eat any of their banana harvest. Eep is still the free-spirited and independent daughter who now wants to further her relationship with Guy and wishes her family's approval. Ugga is Gru's loving and supportive wife. Thunk is the dimwitted yet kind son who is now obsessed with watching a window. Sandy is the rambunctious infant daughter. Gran is Ugga's cantankerous yet fearless mother who is off-guardedly entertaining throughout the climax. Let's not forget Guy's pet sloth Belt, Thunk's pet crocodile-dog Douglas and predator-turned-pet sabre-tooth tiger Chunk.
The closest character with the most development is Guy. Outside maintaining his role as the outsider who helped The Crood family and Eep's love interest, we get to know a little more background about him, such as his childhood and relationship with the Betterman family. At the same time, he nearly succumbs into his past life while discovering the true meaning of finding his "tomorrow."
And then, we have the new characters, The Bettermans. Besides being a more progressive and sophisticated family, they were also acquainted with Guy's family during his early years. Without giving too much information, the family is conservative and are nearly identical to the Croods themselves. In other words, the family would be given an easy first impression, but after a while, they are not so bad. Phil is a manipulative yet cowardly and scrupulous father and Hope is the passive-aggressive yet kind mother. Their daughter Dawn is easily the most likeable of the Betterman family. Yes, besides being Guy's childhood friend and forbidden to leave her farm, she is quirky and pliable thanks to her new friendship with Eep. She also has a pet sloth named Sash.
Despite some of the characters not receiving much change, the voice acting once again helps bring charm to the characters. You can tell that the actors really had a lot of fun with this sequel, especially with Cloris Leachman as Gran during the third act. In fact, this may be one of Leachman's best performances in such a long time. Nicholas Cage as Grug managed to be both kooky and serious simultaneously. Emma Stone is enthusiastic as Eep while Ryan Reynolds can be emotional outside his usual shtick. Peter Dinklage, Leslie Mann and Kelly Marie Tran are welcoming newcomers to the cast and provided some good entertainment as well.
Overall, The Croods: A New Age is an astounding and step-up sequel after surviving its disappearance in DreamWorks' history. At first, the story and characters may sound nearly similar to the first film. But, thanks to the execution, imaginative animation, vibrant colors, and polished voice acting, it was a lot of fun to watch. It's not on the same level as Shrek 2 or any of Dragon sequels, the effort still shows and prevails. Comparing this and Trolls: World Tour, which were both released in 2020, they equally have their strengths and weaknesses, but The Croods is closer for the expecting the unexpected factor. If you are looking for...any movie to watch in theaters, this is highly recommended. But, that also depends on how you feel about The Croods or the franchise in general. If you enjoy the first movie, enjoy the Netflix show and/or a fan of any of Chris Sanders' works, this is a good flick to check out. Kids will have a fun time, parents will like it fine and get a laugh. Here's to DreamWorks to keep up the good work.