“It’s really bad,” my wife told me after she watched The Croods: A New Age in the theater. “The jokes were all in the trailer, the characters get really creepy at certain points like when they eat, there’s an annoying message in it, and its story is way too messy compared to the first one.”
I was surprised to hear her criticisms because she really likes the first one. I’m usually slow to try something new, so even though I had heard that The Croods was a great film for years, I didn’t bother watching it until a little over a month ago. And I loved it! It was a How to Train Your Dragon-type experience for me because I had little familiarity with it beforehand, so my expectations of it being good were minimal. And it turned out to blow even high expectations out of the water. I was shocked at how they managed to combine The Flintstones and The Land Before Time into an undeniably satisfying viewing experience.
I didn’t know what they were going to do in the sequel, and I deliberately avoided watching any trailers for it. All I had to go on was what my wife said. A few weeks after she saw it, we checked it out from the library to watch it with all of our kids, and I was expecting to hate it. To my amazement, The Croods: A New Age managed to match the quality of the first film, if not surpass it in some ways. I extolled its positive qualities to my wife until she actually came to like it, too. It must have looked a lot creepier on a big screen.
I’d like to share five main reasons why The Croods: A New Age managed to win me over in spite of my prejudice against it at the start.
No Repeated Jokes
Okay, maybe “no repeated jokes” is an exaggeration because the little Belt sloth does a hesitant version of his “da-da-daaaaa” gag from the first film when they come across a giant wall at the start of the sequel. And Guy gets carried in a log in both films, but in the second one they manage to do something fresh with it. He writes a travelogue while he notes that he is traveling in a log with Grug Crood and Phil Betterman this time. And that’s the secret to why it feels like there are no repeated jokes. They don’t do any puppet shows, Guy doesn’t ask to be hit in the head to generate an idea (although he does get punched in the face a lot by punch monkeys), and Grug doesn’t try to come up with all sorts of silly ideas to impress his family. Instead, they have a giant bee sting that leads to humorous results, a love of bananas that comes back to bite Grug (literally), and glorious hair jokes galore.
Many sequels beg you to like them, such as in the way I discussed about the snowball fight scene in Groundhog Day. They do this by trying to recreate scenes and jokes that worked in the original film without adding anything different or spontaneous. Not so with The Croods: A New Age. This is a sequel that takes the time to craft its own jokes and gags without relying on the first film as its sole point of reference for why it should be considered funny. And most of them work perfectly well on their own, while being enriched by an understanding of how the characters acted and interacted in the earlier film.
Welcome New Characters
The new characters come across as annoying initially, but that’s okay because that’s the point. They think they are better than everyone else, hence their name: the Betterman family. They certainly are more civilized and technologically advanced, but that’s partly a façade that gets stripped away as the film goes on. Dawn Betterman starts out as a sheltered kid, but she loves getting a taste of freedom, and it’s not because she desires to rebel; she’s simply experiencing what Eep yearned for in the first film. Those two characters get along surprisingly well. There’s no catfighting over Guy the way I thought it would happen. It’s mostly their parents fighting over him, while the two girls are content to be friends.
Funny story. I had forgotten the name of the Bettermans’ daughter at the point in the film when the grandma starts giving her companions warrior names. And the grandma actually says she can’t remember her name, to which the girl helpfully replies, “I’m Dawn.” Because of that, I always remember her name now. It’s like the movie was talking directly for me and to me at that moment.
Phil is quite a conniving fellow, worming his way into Grug’s mind to manipulate him. Little does he know that he’s also revealing his own weaknesses simply by where he takes Grug for a little privacy. And I love that he keeps showing that foible with the punch monkeys. He thinks he’s superior, but whenever he comes up with an idea to give him an advantage over his adversaries, the monkeys just copy him and use it against him. It’s especially hilarious when he admits to teaching the monkeys how to tie him up with better knots because their knots were atrocious. He could have had a chance at escape if he hadn’t felt the need to criticize and one-up his captors. So funny.
His wife Hope Betterman thinks she can take care of herself away from the barbaric Croods, but she soon learns the value of staying together when she gets rolled up into a nice, warm sleep pile. Which reminds me!
Building on the Previous Film
The Croods: A New Age does an incredible job of building on the previous film instead of contradicting or negating it. The sleep pile is a perfect example. In the previous film, it represented the closeness that Grug demanded of his family in order to survive. In this film, it acts as a symbol of the Croods’ tightknit hominess that can also come across as suffocation and a lack of privacy. All of that plays perfectly into the sequel’s theme of having to make individual choices and wanting to be free of unnecessary restrictions. They reuse a throwaway gag from the first film in a way that adds depth and meaning to it that wasn’t there before.
It doesn’t feel like the characters revert to where they were at the start of the first film, nor do they have to relearn the same lessons they already got. In The Croods, Grug learned not to tell his family to hide from danger inside a cave. That’s why he’s surprised to find that Phil hides from his family in a literal man-cave. His new phrase is that the pack sticks together. Thus, it makes sense that his problem now is having to learn to split up his pack by entrusting his daughter to another provider, in this case a husband.
There are too many great gags in this film to list, like Thunk’s obsession with screens and the grandma’s flying hair. The two scenes that really typify this film’s innovative spirit are the dinner scene and the battle of the dads.
By the point in the film when the Croods and the Bettermans share what may be their final dinner together, we’ve spent enough time with them to understand all of the conflicts growing between them. And it all comes to a head in one amazing sequence. The conversation flows in a way that gives each character something dramatic to say, which shocks unwanted confessions out of others in a series of dominoes. It’s hard to describe it all, but every shot and word fits together and tells the story effectively and creatively. I especially love that Thunk is content to just silently watch the fun as the two families melt down all around him. He represents the audience in that scene, which is appropriate since his arc involves his love of watching the world without interacting with it.
Later, when the two dads get into a fistfight, it begins in the way you might expect and then veers off in a novel direction. They both hurt each other physically at first, with Grug swinging the other dad around by his head because he’s much smaller, and Phil tugging and ripping out Grug’s ample chest hair. Those are weak spots the other noticed earlier in the film. But soon they get so exhausted, they have to resort to more creative means of fighting. They attack each other’s heart by pointing out their flaws until they give the killing stroke. They find that they both have the same problem, and it cuts them to the core to hear it stated out loud. It’s worse than any physical blow to face the fact that they are being bad fathers. And the best part is that that moment triggers a memory in Guy that helps his character grow, as well. Everything fits together perfectly in this film, which is both refreshing and fun.
Even the feminist and environmental messages my wife picked up on aren’t ham-fisted or grating. They feel more like something out of How to Train Your Dragon. In that film, when all the big, tough Vikings leave on a dangerous mission, it’s up to the least-likely warriors imaginable to save the day. As for the environmental message, the dragons wouldn’t steal food from the Vikings if they weren’t controlled by an even bigger dragon. Once the Vikings destroy that threat, they can live together with the dragons in peace. So it’s not saying humans or dragons are inherently evil. Instead, they have a common enemy they can work together to defeat.
Something similar happens in The Croods: A New Age. After Grug, Phil, and Guy get captured by punch monkeys, it’s up to their wives and children to save them. And the crazy grandma reveals herself to be a true warrior. It’s funny because it’s unexpected, and it offers a lot of opportunities for character growth. The fact that Phil is responsible for making it impossible for the monkeys to grow bananas is overshadowed by the fact that they were already enslaved by an even bigger monkey that extorted food from them long before the Bettermans arrived. Once the humans defeat that giant threat, they are free to live with the punch monkeys in peace. Or as peacefully as possible with wild animals that communicate through cartoony violence.
Crood Yet Refined
I really enjoyed The Croods: A New Age. It’s a fine example of a sequel adding more characters and conflicts without sacrificing what made the original good. As an audience, we already like this family, and we want to see them stay alive and find happiness. A good sequel puts them to the test to see how they react to challenging situations, which this one does. It also does a great job of making me appreciate the first film even more by building on ideas in it that went unexplored until now. The Croods laid the perfect groundwork to allow the sequel to reach new emotional and comedic heights. I’m impressed that a movie with Crood in the title could turn out to be so refined.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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