REVIEW: The Croods: A New Age [2020]

Rating: 4 out of 10.
  • Rating: PG | Runtime: 95 minutes
    Release Date: November 25th, 2020 (USA)
    Studio: DreamWorks Animation / Universal Pictures
    Director(s): Joel Crawford
    Writer(s): Kevin Hageman & Dan Hageman and Paul Fisher & Bob Logan / Kirk DeMicco & Chris Sanders (story)

The pack stays together.

There’s a montage during 2013’s The Croods wherein a comparison is being made between caveman Grug (Nicolas Cage) and Neanderthal Guy (Ryan Reynolds) concerning intelligence and thought. The point is that the former uses his fists without contemplating a better way while the latter problem solves to find success with the least amount of risk. One of the examples comes during a confrontation with the so-called “punch-monkeys” as Grug readies to fight his way through them before Guy swoops in with a bushel of bananas to diffuse hostilities. He even tosses one to his less evolved counterpart only to watch him throw it away in anger. The scene may have seemed innocuous then because it was merely a gag. Seven years later, however, it becomes a telling marker.

Why? Because original directors Kirk DeMicco and Chris Sanders, when breaking The Croods: A New Age‘s story, or screenwriters Kevin Hageman, Dan Hageman, Paul Fisher, and Bob Logan, when composing it, completely erase that moment from canon—and for no reason. So what if they wanted to use punch-monkeys as the big subplot villain in the sequel? Nothing would have needed to change. Bananas could have still been positioned front and center. Grug’s desire to eat them simply as a means to piss off new host Phil Betterman (Peter Dinklage) could have remained. So why did they give Grug a giant monologue about eating a banana as a boy and always wishing he might one day eat another? Why make it seem like he’s never seen one since?

It was likely a combination of laziness, indifference, and lack of respect for the material. That’s not to say The Croods was a cinematic masterpiece, but it was a heartfelt kid’s film deserving better than a half-assed continuation almost a decade later now that its fans had already aged out of the target demographic. To then hear feral baby Sandy (Kailey Crawford) yell “Boom” at the end of New Age before Grug erases the fact she said “Daddy” in its predecessor by exclaiming it as her first word makes matters worse. And if the filmmakers—including director Joel Crawford—weren’t going to take the time to get those little details correct, how can we give them the benefit of the doubt when so many other problems arise too?

We can’t. So a line like, “Oh! They speak beautifully!” on behalf of Phil’s wife Hope (Leslie Mann) upon discovering Grug, his wife Ugga (Catherine Keener), mother-in-law Gran (Cloris Leachman), son Thunk (Clark Duke), and daughter Eep (Emma Stone) know English as well as them can’t be construed as anything but bigoted. There’s a reason a quick Amazon search for Croods kid’s toys brings up nothing but sloths—the connotations of cavemen opposite “civilized” humans aren’t subtle. Easy jokes made as a result of a dynamic that foists them together teeter towards racism and assimilation even without the ill-advised desire to have Phil use AAV as a means of breaking down Grug’s mistrust via acting “hip.” This film is a walking, talking facepalm with little room for defense.

It didn’t have to be, though. The idea to continue this story by having the Crood family run into people from Guy’s past is sound. Just like the culture clash between them and him in the first film, the potential of introducing technology, amenities, and safety through the Bettermans is ripe for commentary, comedy, and a necessary message: empathetic acceptance for “the other.” Where things go wrong is the fact that the script labels the Croods as “other” and the Bettermans as “best.” Yes there’s a plot-line seeking compromise, but at the end of the day advancement is the goal. The compromise is thus how much advancement is enough rather than should we advance at all. Without the latter conversation, everything becomes a hostile takeover.

That’s not accepting people for who they are. That’s allowing people to become like you. The chasm between those sentiments is vast with the difference between looking inward at one’s own faults and thinking you’re perfect enough to be everyone’s savior. Add a subplot that sees Phil and Hope trying to steal Guy from the Croods in order to set him up with their daughter (and his childhood friend) Dawn (Kelly Marie Tran) and the whole devolves even further. Suddenly we’re glossing over the reality that the Bettermans built a wall to imprison their child under the auspices of “protection” and going full bore into gentrification wherein the Croods’ “element” is no longer welcome. And what finally brings everyone together? Caricatured “girl power” as written by six dudes.

Prepare yourself for a lot of headshaking if you’re younger than Gen-X because the film feels like it’s targeting Boomers in a way that erases the reality that Millennials are parents. Gags like giving Thunk a window to occupy his every waking moment like it’s a primitive version of a television and later a cellphone are the sort that my parents made when I was a kid. It’s 2020 now. Those types of jokes were tone-deaf when the first film came out. Now they just help to show how unnecessary this sequel was and how damaging its affluent white suburban-centered narrative is during a year of nationwide Black Lives Matter protests. It pretends the dangerous superiority complex shared by the Bettermans is equal to the Croods’ uncouth behavior.

It’s not. And hiding behind the false idea that kids won’t understand the politics inherent to silly pratfalls isn’t good enough anymore. The filmmakers want us to laugh at the Bettermans for being too much and the Croods for being not enough. While that asks those who relate to the former into toning things down so as not to flaunt their success, it shames the latter into thinking they’re outcasts who need to “work harder” and change their very identities to achieve the same. Change is positive for many reasons, but expressing that change by completely upending the Croods’ lives so they can all live in harmony while the Bettermans only have to show the bare minimum humanity is the biggest joke of all. We should know better.

[1] (clockwise, from top left) Sandy Crood (Kailey Crawford), Grug Crood (Nicolas Cage), Thunk Crood (Clark Duke), Gran (Cloris Leachman), Eep Crood (Emma Stone) and Ugga Crood (Catherine Keener) in DreamWorks Animation’s “The Croods: A New Age,” directed by Joel Crawford. Photo Credit: DreamWorks Animation LLC © 2020 DreamWorks Animation LLC. All Rights Reserved.
[2] (from left) Phil Betterman (Peter Dinklage) and Hope Betterman (Leslie Mann) in DreamWorks Animation’s “The Croods: A New Age,” directed by Joel Crawford. Photo Credit: DreamWorks Animation LLC © 2020 DreamWorks Animation LLC. All Rights Reserved.
[3] (from left) Guy (Ryan Reynolds) and Eep Crood (Emma Stone) in DreamWorks Animation’s “The Croods: A New Age,” directed by Joel Crawford. Photo Credit: DreamWorks Animation LLC © 2020 DreamWorks Animation LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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