The modern animation landscape has evolved with stunning speed. In the 2000s, Disney and Dreamworks prospered at the box office and on the awards trail. Dreamworks seemed poise to build on the success of Shrek, How to Train Your Dragon, and Kung Fu Panda across multiple mediums. Yet, the decade after the release of How to Train Your Dragon found the studio struggling to keep afloat—the power of many brands weaned due to overexposure, while IP-driven stories missed the mark.
The Croods became a lone creative, bright spot for Dreamworks. The caveman family-comedy earned an Oscar nomination and remained the highest-grossing domestic box office hit for the studio since 2013. The Croods: A New Age reaches theaters with an all-star cast and high hopes seven years later. Unfortunately, despite some promise from its stunning visuals, the latest Croods film stumbles with a thin and uninspiring plot.
The Croods: A New Age picks up with the caveman family as they search for a paradise. Eep (Emma Stone) and Guy (Ryan Reynolds) continue their blossoming romance despite Grug (Nicolas Cage) worrying at every step. One day the family (including Catherine Keener, Clark Duke, Cloris Leachman, Randy Thom, and Chris Sanders) breaks through a wall that leads into an oasis. On the other side, they soon discover a more civilized family. The Bettermans (Leslie Mann, Peter Dinklage, and Kelly Marie Tran), who once knew Guy as a child, have built their own Zanadu. Soon after arriving, Guy and Eep begin to question their relationship and where they belong in this new world.
On its face, there are few inherent problems with The Croods: A New Age. The cast delivers some devoted vocal performances, with Cage, Leachman, and Dinklage emerging as the standouts. The story does not fall into the obvious trap of making the main character’s love interest fall in love with someone new, despite Tran’s Dawn as an obvious choice. Instead, The Croods seeks to explore the minutia that causes many couples to question their devotion to each other. Director Joel Crawford makes his feature debut with visual style, loading the screen with bright colors and interesting animals. The Croods will satisfy the itch of family entertainment that many are craving.
Despite these positives, there are few truly memorable moments (apart from a montage in the third act that is easily the franchise’s peak). The family-friendly story prevents the film from exploring more complex relationships between its characters. Generational stereotypes and caricatures run throughout the film, most notably poking fun at young adults and “free-spirit” living. The pun-based humor often inspires a soft chuckle, but few moments are truly funny. There are almost no risks in the storytelling, leading the audience into a low-stake story that does little to justify its existence. Instead, the film opts for loud (and we mean thunderous) moments of shouting and screaming to create energy.
Even worse, The Croods: A New Age’s story is excessively bland. In 2020 alone, the medium has told stories of loss, confronted xenophobia, and crafted deeply existential quandaries. A story of two teenagers wondering about their place in the world could have been exceedingly meaningful at this moment. COVID makes it easy to empathize with people who feel trapped by their family or for those longing for love. Yet The Croods does little to interrogate either of these perfectly acceptable questions. Instead, we retread through a story of a father learning to let their daughter grow. The narrative is not innovative in any way, nor is it specific enough to feel personal. Instead, it lands with a thud and feels strangely disposable you’ve finished.
Some families will inevitably find joy in The Croods: A New Age upon its release. Yet it seems like the animated sequel is heading for a questionable release against some true juggernauts on Christmas Day. While Dreamworks and Universal found success with Trolls: World Tour this year, it seems unlikely that The Croods is destined for similar love. After this uninspired flick, Dreamworks feels lost at sea. The studio has set itself back once more, while other studios and newcomers push animation limits.