“Oh my gosh, that’s so weird!” my son would shout at the screen literally every two minutes. Don’t worry, we were watching a screener of DreamWorks Animation’s The Croods: A New Age at home. Not that I like there to be talking during the movie even in my own living room, but his reaction was valid. This movie is nuts. Or, more appropriate since the fruit is integral to the plot: this movie is bananas. So bananas that it’s difficult not to react boisterously with nonstop laughter and uncontrollable verbal expressions of amazement. I actually would have loved to have experienced the animated sequel in a theater with my kids, surrounded by other children. But we’re still avoiding cinemas at the moment (as are apparently many of you). At least I got the next best thing: my children are rarely as attentive, amused, and in awe with a new movie watched at home as they were with The Croods: A New Age.
I was also surprised by my own enjoyment of the film itself. I caught up with the Oscar-nominated 2013 original earlier in the day and was not too impressed (I’ve also never seen the Netflix animated series Dawn of the Croods). The Croods is a prehistoric migration story seemingly stolen from any of the Ice Age movies (I guess the one where the granny sloth shows up) only done with cave people characters and even less interest in authenticity. It’s fine but familiar. The follow-up, which spent many years in development before production was canceled then later resumed, and then ultimately finished remotely by the crew during the COVID-19 pandemic, has a more interesting plot, more vibrant visuals, and a much funnier script. With the first film, I didn’t really understand why all the creatures encountered by the titular family had to be so strange. I’m still not sure about that choice here, but at least it’s embraced more imaginatively in the sequel.
The hybrid mutations of these movies’ flora and fauna also contrast more acutely with the human characters once the story arrives at a large, single-family enclave. The Croods is indeed a crude clan, in manner and design, so their encounterings of Wuzzle-like mashups in the wild, such as the kangadillo and the mousephant, are an odd but increasingly ordinary part of their fantastical alternate-evolution universe. When the cave dwellers arrive at the farm and treehouse Shangri-la of the Betterman family, though, everything becomes further askew. The Betterman bunch consist of more modern-looking characters, and they have a more advanced and cleaner lifestyle including elevators, showers (with a hint of vanilla), and flush toilets — all rather rudimentary in their engineering, of course, but still a step above Flintstones-style conveniences.
In this walled paradise of safe, civilized, and bountiful living — which, of course, isn’t beloved by all of the Croods, namely the old-fashioned patriarch Grug (voiced by Nicolas Cage) — the fruits and vegetables and livestock are still as surreal as can be, from the giant, candy-colored fruits to the crocopigs and chicken seals. The Bettermans have agriculture and domestication, but they look the most ridiculous by being so manicured and sophisticated amidst the outlandish worldbuilding. Also sticking out like a sore thumb are those aforementioned bananas. They’re just bananas. Not bananostriches or bananapples or anything else so wacky. Yet bananas are symbolic of comedy, whether it’s in their slapstick-prone peels or phallic shape or the funny sound of their name, so there’s an irony to them being so plain and literal here. There’s also a predictibility to their purpose in the narrative.
As with any animated feature sequel involving a utopian location that the main characters stumble upon or are brought to, the Bettermans are not as perfect as they seem and their oasis is not as ideal as it looks. The conflict is not so black and white as the clash of polished versus unpolished could lazily be, athough I’m guessing there will be plenty who see this as a timely affair about oppositing sociopolitical bubbles finding it difficult to live together and get along. At its center, the story concerns the simple romantic scenario of the orphaned Guy (Ryan Reynolds) having been the love interest of Crood daughter Eep (Emma Stone) but now wanted by the Betterman parents (Peter Dinklage and vocal performance standout Leslie Mann) as a more fitting match for their daughter, Dawn (Kelly Marie Tran). But there’s not enough there for the movie to lean on alone.
The third act of The Croods: A New Age takes a wide turn toward an expected direction of plot, but the foundation of the storytelling is the only thing that’s familiar in this section of the movie. There are more wildly absurd creatures, some surprisingly literally hair-raising developments, and a focus on the female characters as feminist warriors (the men also wind up with their own, hilariously suggestive affinity). The action is ramped up, and so is the silliness. There’s something for everyone, too. My son couldn’t stop laughing at the monkeys that communicate by punching, my daughter fell into a fit of giggles at everything going on with the women, especially when hair was in play, and I continued to appreciate the whimsical and well-executed humor. There’s nothing particularly highbrow in the comedy, but much of it works on a level that’s over the kids’ heads.
Most of the movie, though, works on a broad concept of craziness, with seemingly random and anarchic but certainly precise situations and montages that play as totally bonkers to especially young viewers. And is particularly effective when they’re high, as in hopped up on candy and sugar sodas from the concession stand (I assume the adults may also benefit from a different sort of high, as well), and feeding off the energy of a crowd similarly tweaked-out on sweets. But The Croods: A New Age is evidently still plenty potent in its ability to stun its target audience with its nonsense and jolt them into a state of perpetual laughter as response to such consistent kookiness. It’s more than just a diversion of colorful garbage to throw on in the afternoon. It is a weird movie, sometimes just for weirdsake but also for an engaging entertainment experience wherever it is you’re watching.