If you want to look at the present, sometimes we need to start with the past.
Following the events of 2013’s The Croods, The Croods: A New Age follows the ‘first family’ as wander through the wilderness. Their simple lives are turned upside down though when they stumble upon the Bettermans, a family that has built a life of privilege through their innovative technology and their high value on self-protection. When the Bettermans decide that the Croods are a threat to their life of luxury, they attempt to rid themselves of their visitors but, in the process, unleash the danger that lurks on the other side of their incredibly high walls.
Directed by Joel Crawford, Croods: A New Age was not a sequel that seemed necessary yet proves to be most welcome. Whereas the first film focused entirely on the Crood clan, New Age opens up the world considerably (and creatively) with the addition of the Bettermans and their utopian realm. While the first film was fairly well-received, the world in which they lived had a relatively limited colour palette as the Croods trudged through their largely dusty terrain. However, with a new environment comes new opportunities for innovation and Crawford and his team let their imaginative juices fly.
Featuring wild creatures and dazzling bursts of colour, there’s an energy within New Age that was missing from its predecessor which also gives the franchise new life. (Personally, I believe that anyone who came up with the idea of ‘wolf-spiders’ really needs to seek some professional help, regardless of how adorable they look.) Filled with modern references like ‘window addiction’ and enough technological wonders to make The Flintstones jealous, Croods: A New Age feels relevant to the modern family and keeps the laughs going along the way.
Even the cast seems slightly more… well… animated in the sequel now that they some new blood to play with. Given the opportunity to work alongside Dinklage’s sophisticated but slimy Phil Betterman, Nicolas Cage’s Grug seems much more likable and endearing. At the same time, with their relationship now firmly established, both Emma Stone and Ryan Reynolds are much more comfortable with one another as their characters move towards their ‘forever’. Stealing the show, however, are the aforementioned Bettermans, played by veterans Peter Dinklage and Leslie Mann. Stepping into the role of antagonists to the Croods, Dinklage and Mann are a joy to watch as the obnoxiously wealthy Bettermans. (‘Emphasis on the better,’ they remind.) Though detestable for their celebration of privilege, Dinklage and Mann embed their performances with a nervous desire to protect their family that somehow makes them seem more sympathetic.
Similar to the first film, A New Age also wants to explore what it means to be both an individual and valued part of the pack. As they settle into the Betterman’s luxurious villas, the Croods finally have the opportunity to have some privacy… but is that something that they really want? As they adjust to living in a technological paradise that allows for them to finally have some space between them, the Croods also find themselves more divided.
Having built a bond between them by always sticking together (primarily out of fear), their new environment provides a certain sense of ease to it that gives them freedom. While this can be life-giving to some, innovations like the ‘man-cave’ and Thunk’s obsession with the window also create roadblocks within their family. In this way, the film recognizes the modern challenges of relationships as we continue to find new ways to create space between us and struggle to maintain open communication in the family unit.
What may be most surprisingly, however, is that A New Age is also unafraid to venture into a new age of ideas by adding the numerous layers of cultural subtext to the family-friendly adventure. From the female empowerment of the Thunder Sisters to the abuse of the environment, the film explores a broad range of culturally relevant issues that help elevate the film’s story. (In fact, through Betterman’s control of the bananas and water supply, the film even suggests the socio-economic ramifications of creating a caste system where the divide between rich and poor continues to grow.) In doing so, there’s a certain level of bravery to A New Age as it intelligently explores some of the deeper issues of our current culture while never becoming overburdened by the conversations or losing the fun.
Despite having little that’s new to the standard animated release, the disc Little Red Bronana Bread and Dear Diary: World’s First Pranks are not spectacular but are effective and entertaining. What’s more, director’s commentaries are always welcome as well. Still, the simplest shorts may be the most helpful. For parents looking for something to do with their kids during a lockdown, shorts that offer creative options like ‘FamiLeaf Album’, ‘How to Draw: Caveman Style’ and ‘Stone Age Snack Attack’ may help bring some activities into your home. It’s also worth noting that the colours really pop onscreen with the home release, especially on the 4K disc.
Filled with humour and heart, The Croods: A New Age is a worthwhile venture. Once again, Grug, Eep and the rest of the family prove that the value of knowing your place in the pack and the importance of supporting one another in the most difficult of circumstances.
Without question, they have peaked my interest to see what happens in the next age.
Croods: The New Age is available on VOD, 4K, Blu-Ray and DVD on February 23rd, 2021.