Since Shrek took the then-fledgling Dreamworks Animation into the big time in 2001, it’s been in the sequel-making business. Shrek got three more films and one spin-off, Madagascar got two sequels and a spin-off, and the Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon series each have three films. In each case, every subsequent film came out within a few years of the previous one, yet it took seven years for a sequel to be made for the massively successful The Croods.
The Croods: A New Age was worth the wait, as the filmmakers obviously took their time to get all the details just right. The Crood family — Grug (Nicolas Cage), Ugga (Catherine Keener), Eep (Emma Stone), Thunk (Clark Duke), Gran (Cloris Leachman), and Sandy (Kailey Crawford) — is still a tight-knit bunch, but the growing relationship between Eep and newcomer Guy (Ryan Reynolds) threatens to break apart their unit.
Things change when they find a glorious new world with abundant food populated by the Betterman family — Hope (Leslie Mann), Phil (Peter Dinklage), and Dawn (Kelly Marie Tran). At once intrigued and repulsed by the Neanderthal family, the Bettermans allow the Croods to stay, leading to conflicts, but also bonds, between various members of both groups.
Written by the team of Kevin Hageman, Dan Hageman, Paul Fisher, and Bob Logan, and directed by Joel Crawford, the film seems to strike the right tone at every turn. Nothing about the Crood family is sophisticated, but somehow the filmmakers keep their brutishness as a lovable and funny trait no matter what crazy thing they do next. That’s no small feat, as the temptation to just fall back on what worked in the first film is something many filmmakers can’t help but do.
The surreal nature of their world, with things like giant fruit and combination animals such as land sharks, pig gators, chicken seals, and wolf spiders, helps to sell the craziness that takes place throughout the film. While animation permits filmmakers to get as imaginative as possible, there’s a fine line between not enough and too much, and this film is almost perfectly balanced.
The introduction of the Bettermans is a joke that pays dividends throughout the film. Hope and Phil are imagined as a type of snobby hipsters, and their “fancy” lifestyle contrasts with the basic ways of the Croods in many funny ways. Whether it’s Phil giving Guy a man bun or showing Grug his man cave, or the family impressing with something as simple as a shower, the filmmakers show their cleverness without trying to make things too smart.
The members of big name cast each play their parts well, even Cage, whose career has been filled with a slew of low-budget and little-seen films since the original Croods came out. But it’s the 94-year-old Cloris Leachman who steals the show. Gran is given a decent amount to do in this film, and Leachman’s vocal performance makes her come alive in a way that doesn’t usually happen in animation.
The only downside to The Croods: A New Age being so good is that it’s only being released in theaters in a year where seeing a movie in a theater is a scary proposition for many. If you’d rather wait, hopefully it won’t be long — certainly not seven years — before it comes to a streaming service near you.
The Croods: A New Age will open in theaters on November 25.