The Croods 2: A New Age, 2020.
Directed by Joel Crawford.
Starring Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Kelly Marie Tran, Nicolas Cage, Catherine Keener, Leslie Mann, Peter Dinklage, Clark Duke and Cloris Leachman.
The Croods find their culture challenged when they cross paths with a more technologically advanced family, living in an apparent utopia.
Eight years is an eternity in terms of animated film. A six-year-old who loved seeing The Croods with their parents in 2013 will now be a 14-year-old who’s likely considerably less interested in the travails of a neanderthal family. That’s the difficulty faced by The Croods 2: A New Age, which was announced very shortly after the original movie’s success but got caught amid development hell and then faced further delays due to last year’s global health emergency. Strangely, the delay seems to have done the movie the world of good and it emerges as something far fresher, sharper and more enjoyable than its rather tired predecessor.
The dynamic is an animated adventure standard. Teenage cavewoman Eep (Emma Stone) is loved up with new beau Guy (Ryan Reynolds) and they’re discussing a life away from her family unit, much to the chagrin of protective dad Grug (Nicolas Cage). Things change when their search for a utopian “tomorrow” brings them into the orbit of the hyper-advanced Betterman family, led by dudebro Phil (Peter Dinklage) and his prim and proper wife Hope (Leslie Mann). They welcome the Croods with open-ish arms, but seem more interested in reuniting Guy with their daughter – his childhood friend Dawn (Kelly Marie Tran).
It has to be said from the outset that The Croods 2 is bonkers – an amiably unhinged thrill ride. A flashback opening focuses on people drowning, bizarrely, in slowly rising tar and then segues into a present day chase in which the Croods ride a rainbow tiger in order to evade a selection of strange volcanic armadillos. It’s a world of unique animal hybrids, with chicken-seals, pig-gators, spider-wolves and land-sharks all treated as entirely normal parts of this ecosystem. By the time a tribe of “Punch Monkeys” shows up – who communicate via a selection of jabs, uppercuts and right hooks – it barely feels like a surprise.
As fun as this kaleidoscopic craziness is, it only works as well as it does because director Joel Crawford and the hefty writing team – four credited screenwriters, plus “story by” credits for first film directors Kirk DeMicco and Chris Sanders – understand the emotional core of the movie. Even though the characters are enormous caricatures and the environment frequently explodes with candy-coloured insanity, the dilemmas are human and relatable. There’s the passive-aggressiveness of a middle-class family believing themselves above those from a less privileged world, the turmoil of a father balancing protective instincts with the need to let go and the white-hot intensity of first love.
The voice cast, too, are strong enough to keep the thing on the rails. Cage occasionally unleashes his trademark line delivery (watch out for a deafening declaration about banana consumption), but also finds insecurity and discomfort in the way he is repeatedly made to feel inadequate by Dinklage’s fast-talking sleazeball. Stone and Reynolds have dynamite comic chemistry and there’s also a real joy in how a possible love triangle is instead transmogrified into a warm and enjoyable friendship between Eep and Kelly Marie Tran’s sheltered Dawn. They’re the Stone Age equivalent of nightclub bathroom buddies.
Narratively, it is a little too conventional and there’s a strange, mishandled subplot which appears to nod to positioning the Bettermans as unpleasant colonisers, only to row back and do something different. It also reaches for a generic running gag about screen addiction involving Eep’s brother Thunk (Clark Duke) – done a lot better by The Mitchells vs. the Machines earlier this year – that is initially amusing, but is milked to the point that it has lost all meaning by the end.
With all of that said, though, it’s deeply impressive to see such a belated sequel surpass its predecessor in every way by virtue of genuine heart as well as surprisingly smart dialogue and comedy which reliably hits the mark. Given the star wattage of its voice cast and the fact the pandemic scuppered its US box office total, this might be the last we see of the Croods, but it’s a great way for these characters to go out with a bang.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.