The Croods: A New Age

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Croods: A New Age
"Like its predecessor, this film relies heavily on fast-firing jokes with easy punchlines. Supported by the quirky animation, these are a lot of fun, but older viewers may quickly find themselves feeling worn out."

The moment when two species came together is often seen as the pivotal point in human prehistory, even though we now know that we took relatively few genes from Neanderthals before we drove them to extinction, and some modern humans don't have them at all. It has loomed large in the imagination of popular anthropologists, who have fantasised about the cultural impact of such encounters and what each group might think of the other. Whilst Joel Crawford's sequel to 2013's The Croods doesn't explicitly talk about Neanderthals or Cro-Magnons, the game it's playing is clear - it's just unusual to see a film approach this from the perspective of the Neanderthals.

A lot has happened since the first film. Its central family has now taken to living a nomadic existence, its various adventures summed up in a frantic montage whilst a Tony Romeo song is strangled in the background. Naturally, would-be alpha male Grug (voiced by Nicolas Cage) thinks he's dictating their course, but in reality it seems to have more to do with young outsider Guy (Ryan Reynolds), who - as we see in a pre-credits sequence - was once told by his dying parents to keep on walking towards the setting sun. There, they assured him, he would find a place called tomorrow3 - and there, instead, he finds the Bettermans, a family with a notably more sophisticated way of life who recognise him from this early childhood.

Life inside the Bettermans' handsomely provisioned stockade is unlike anything the Croods have encountered before. Food grows in abundance, there are no predators, and there are all sorts of exciting new technologies. But the Bettermans don't really want them there - they just want Guy as a partner for their daughter, Dawn (Kelly Marie Tran). It appears that this is setting us up for tedious rivalry between Dawn and Eep Crood (Emma Stone), but the girls are much more interested in friendship that in fighting each other, and as Guy settles into what can only be described as the Neolithic equivalent of a Californian hipster lifestyle, they take Grug's sabre tooth tiger out for a joyride on the first of many tearaway adventures. Nobody's parents are exactly thrilled. Then, just when you think things are difficult enough, Grug helps himself to forbidden fruit and unleashes a catastrophe.

Like its predecessor, this film relies heavily on fast-firing jokes with easy punchlines. Supported by the quirky animation, these are a lot of fun, but older viewers may quickly find themselves feeling worn out. Overall, there's too much going on for it to sustain a coherent central narrative and some of the characters are underdeveloped, but there are great performances from Cloris Leachman as the Croods' tough-talking elderly matriarch and from Peter Dinklage as the deeply annoying yet still somehow sympathetic Phil Betterman, who broods in his literal man cave when not trying to get everyone to chillax. A fair but heavy-handed message about environmental destruction and the impact of settlers on indigenous peoples is enlivened by deliciously dark humour and a sharper awareness than one might expect.

There's a lot going on visually here and young children might find parts of it difficult to follow, increasing the likelihood of them wanting to watch it multiple times. they may find the later scenes, when the men are captured and the women set out in pursuit, a bit scary, but this is a family film with a reassuring ending. It's not deep and it's not particularly sophisticated - what did you expect from the stone age? As a light-hearted comedy adventure, however, it rocks.

Reviewed on: 31 Dec 2020
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The Croods: A New Age packshot
The stone age family encounter another family with a very different way of life who remember Guy from his early childhood.

Director: Joel Crawford

Writer: Kevin Hageman, Dan Hageman

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Peter Dinklage, Catherine Keener, Cloris Leachman, Clark Duke, Leslie Mann, Kelly Marie Tran

Year: 2020

Runtime: 95 minutes

Country: US

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