Dreamworks’ The Croods didn’t do much to differentiate itself from ABC’s long-running animated sitcom “The Flintstones” (1960-1966). Nor did it fill the witty and groundbreaking void of the studio’s successful “Shrek” franchise. Admittedly, that series peaked after its masterful second entry. Still, the 2013 prehistoric family adventure garnered an Oscar nomination for “Best Animated Feature,” not to mention a stellar global box office haul of nearly $600 million. Thankfully, The Croods: A New Age rides the high of its predecessor’s success while improving its fundamental culture clash appeal.
Last we saw this wild bunch, Crood patriarch Grug (Nicolas Cage) finally welcomed newcomer Guy (Ryan Reynolds) into the family. Not so much anymore. Sniffing a strong whiff of love between Guy and his daughter Eep (Emma Stone), Grug’s fears about the happy couple abandoning the nest to forge their own “tomorrow” begin to materialize. Guy rightfully wants privacy with Eep away from the snoring, yelling, and literal closeness of her kinfolk, a modern concept that she’s only half-invested in. The young lover is between a rock and a hard club in his face, figuring out how best to convince Eep without causing familial discord.
The Crood clan also includes Gran (Cloris Leachman), her daughter-in-law Ugga (Catherine Keener), and Eep’s younger siblings Thunk (Clark Duke) and Sandy (Kailey Crawford). Accompanied by a sloth, a fuzzy sabre tooth tiger, and a flying creature serving as Gran’s wig, the Croods are just your typical B.C. era household trying to survive fierce predators and global calamity. What they don’t anticipate is the threat of separation, the true villain in this primitive tale. Change often rips families apart, usually for the better since children need distance to properly mature. Other than Guy, nobody shares this philosophy; their ideological divide only widens when the Croods and company encounter another family who knew Guy in his childhood.
Meet Phil (Peter Dinklage), Hope (Leslie Mann) and Dawn (Kelly Marie Tran) Betterman, more civilized in every way compared to the Croods. However, just because you’re civilized doesn’t mean you have class! Phil and Hope have built an effective sanctuary for permanent residence, including an innovative irrigation and plumbing system to make their prehistoric living as modern as possible.
The Croods are in awe of the various domestic contraptions, especially Thunk who cannot get enough of “the window.” He’s as fixated to this new framed point-of-view as youngsters are when sitting in front of the television all day playing video games. Ugga and Grug nearly have a conniption at the thought of separate sleeping quarters. While enamored by their new digs, the Croods — with the exception of Guy — can’t help but view their new hosts exactly as they are: judgmental, passive-aggressive, and overly pretentious.
Satirizing bourgeois bohemian culture is exactly what this franchise needs to make it relevant and hilarious. Mann and Dinklage are exceptional at channeling uptight hipsters who think they can hide their patronization with soothing voices. Lecturing someone about their way of life, or implying that anyone who doesn’t follow a certain domestic lifestyle is uncouth and uncultured, is just about the grossest form of elitism there is. It takes time for people to appreciate more efficient methods of technology, but that doesn’t mean the person slow to advancement isn’t worthy. The tension between the Croods and Bettermans demonstrates how comfortable society is with being so self-righteous in their division.
Unfortunately, Croods: A New Age resorts to old habits when writers Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, Paul Fisher, and Bob Logan assume this fascinating squabble runs out of discourse steam mid-film. Truth be told, it’s what makes this sequel so unique compared to other child-pandering animated movies. Director Joel Crawford doesn’t let the awkward family schism play out for too long — it’s back to behemoth animals with destructive monster complexes in no time. Even Gran’s last-minute homage to the elder women bicyclists of Mad Max: Fury Road doesn’t land with an earned feminist thud. Likely to receive another Oscar nomination for the franchise, Croods: A New Age carves out value by addressing cultural parallels to modern times. Though inconsistent, the sequel uses the family sitcom genre to unearth the human race’s greatest enemy: its own stubborn pride.