The time has now come, with all options for ’80s and ’90s nostalgia used up, we must now look to the 2000s and early 2010s to re-feed us our youthful reminisces. Actually, that’s far too cynical. There’s nothing nostalgic about this seven-years-later sequel. The Croods: A New Age is a simple matter of an IP owner needing to get the most of what it’s paid for whether anyone wants it or not.
None of which has anything to do with whether or not the film is any good beyond a lack of inspiration. It could even be a blessing in disguise, removing the need to repeat previous elements in favor organically moving the story forward. Which will it be?
Time has passed for the Crood family since meeting the tool using Guy (Ryan Reynolds) and surviving the end of the world, but they still haven’t found the blessed land of Tomorrow Guy always spoke of. Clan leader Grug’s (Nicolas Cage) more immediate concern is Guy and daughter Eep’s (Emma Stone) impending departure to start their own family and their own lives.
All of those concerns go out the window when they stumble across a walled paradise hosting several of Guy’s old tribe members, including his ex-girlfriend (Kelly Marie Tran). Those concerns slowly creep back in, however, as the Bettermans’ plot to break-up the Croods and keep Guy with them and Tomorrow may not survive the explosion that results.
The key word to sequels is always ‘the same but different,’ which is a notoriously difficult needle to thread. Usually that’s to keep its fans engaged, but with something like The Croods that’s not as much of a need giving the filmmakers leeway to do whatever they want or can think of.
The quick answer director Joel Crawford has come up with is ‘introduce new characters to create new conflicts.’ The pitfall of that sort of storytelling is letting your primary or strongest characters languish in lieu of exploring the new, unknown elements. It’s to everyone’s credit that A New Age sidesteps those traps, using the Bettermans and their plans to expand what we know about the Croods themselves, working hard not to give anyone short shrift.
It’s not usually a good sign when a screenplay has four or more writers but there are exceptions and A New Age is definitely one of those. From Grug’s concern about his core belief — the sanctity of the family unit — breaking to Eep confronting how much she has changed (as she realizes her romantic rival is the same as she once was to Ugga’s natural good nature running headlong into the Bettermans’ passive-aggressive dismissiveness), both the new and old characters reveal themselves in their conflicts.
And the conflicts are multi-faceted as Grug’s different disapproval of both Guy and Phil inform one another while also being distinct and running headlong into the Hope, Ugga, Dawn and Eep’s own issues. And all in a tidy 100 minutes… it is deceptively simple.
The strength of the screenplay lends itself to strong voice performances from everyone. The veteran performers like Peter Dinklage and Reynolds know exactly what they need to do to make these characters work. Dinklage in particular is fantastically oily and dismissive – a snake oil salesman before there were snakes.
But Tran is even better, encapsulating both Dawn’s naivete and frustration creating a fully realized person from a screenplay that can only ever gesture at that sort of thing.
As much as it manages in character, A New Age falls down some in plot. The goal is simply to get the Croods and Bettermans into one place so that they can fight with one another. This isn’t a piece of Bergmanesque character study at the end of the day – it’s never going to rise to a level one character or another is going to have to make a decision which will not be satisfying for everyone, or even anyone.
Inevitably some outside element will force interpersonal dilemmas aside so everyone can join together, because that’s how these films work and A New Age isn’t re-inventing the wheel (Or even inventing it). But The Croods: A New Age is, amazingly, a perfect example of what professional writers can do with a strong underlying concept even if there’s not obvious reason for any of it. It may not be artful, or original, but it’s fun with some strong characters and strong performances and it’s easy to forget how difficult that is to achieve.
The Croods: A New Age Review Score: 7.5/10
The Croods: A New Age opens in theaters on Wednesday, November 25, 2020. You can watch the trailer for the sequel below.