Voice performances, jokes and eye-popping animation power 'Croods: A New Age'
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It's been a while since the 2013 animated walkabout with the close-knit caveman clan "The Croods," and the question is: Was the wait for sequel "The Croods: A New Age" worth it? The directorial debut of longtime animation story artist Joel Crawford, who worked on the "Kung Fu Panda" movies for DreamWorks Animation, the production company behind "Croods," this movie can best be described as "chaotic good." It's a blend of smart, irreverent humor coupled with eye-popping, neon-Technicolor animation that moves fast and furiously across the screen.
Both films boast a wealth of voice talent, including Oscar winners Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone and Cloris Leachman, along with Ryan Reynolds, Catherine Keener and Clark Duke. For "A New Age," Leslie Mann, Peter Dinklage and Kelly Marie Tran have been added to the mix, as the clingy crowd of Croods encounters a new family, the Bettermans, whose existence threatens their way of life.
That lifestyle is par for the course for your average caveman: a nomadic routine of hunting and gathering. Initially, the only problem plaguing patriarch Grug (Cage) is the chemistry between teens Eep (Stone) and Guy (Reynolds), his daughter and the orphaned boy they picked up along the way in the first movie. Worried they'll run off together to make their own home, or "find their tomorrow," as Guy puts it, Grug thinks he's found the solution to keeping his tribe together when he happens upon a lush, candy-colored land of plenty behind a tall bamboo wall.
However, this is the domain of Phil (Dinklage) and Hope (Mann) Betterman, a pair of groovy, evolved bohemian homo sapiens, who once knew Guy and his family. The passive-aggressive pair quickly set designs on dividing Guy from Eep and connecting him with their daughter, Dawn (Tran). Hijinks and misunderstandings ensue, with Guy taking to the creature comforts of "privacy," hygiene and simple machines the Bettermans can provide, while Dawn gets a taste for adventure with the wild woman Eep. All the while, the parents bicker and scheme about which way of life is better: rough-and-tumble togetherness or bougie individuality? The Croods are torn over whether or not they want to be keeping up with the Bettermans at all.
When a banana shortage causes a feud with a troop of angry punch monkeys, the two tribes have to learn to work together, compromise, communicate and comprehend the different strengths that everyone brings to the table. All this messaging is very much on the surface, the lessons about sharing resources (especially with the punch monkeys) and strength in unity clearly spelled out.
The journey is still fun, though harried. The animation design is bright and colorful, moving as swiftly as the snappy dialogue (the screenplay is by Kevin Hageman, Dan Hageman, Paul Fisher, Bob Logan, Kirk DeMicco and Chris Sanders). The writers use familiar tropes but switch them up just enough to feel fresh and contemporary, and there are some clever bits, including a riff on an '80s hair metal video, and Thunk's (Duke) obsession with watching the prehistoric boob tube: a window.
But because the movie starts at an 11 and doesn't let up, the runtime feels overly long. However, the voice performances are excellent, especially Cage, who brings his signature sense of yearning pathos to Grug the Neanderthal. Watching Grug get with the Pliocene Era and learn to embrace the new and different does seemingly make all that chaos worthwhile.
'THE CROODS: A NEW AGE'
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Clark Duke, Catherine Keener, Cloris Leachman, Peter Dinklage, Leslie Mann, Kelly Marie Tran.
Directed by Joel Crawford
Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.
Rated PG for peril, action and rude humor.
In theaters Wednesday