The Croods: A New Age
PG, 2 Stars
Assigning star ratings to movies is a tricky business. Some people only look at the stars and think they're too high or too low - they don't read the reviews, which are where the detailed critiques are to be found. And since we don't have half stars, there's less opportunity for what nuance can be brought to the star ratings. I think of them as ranging from abysmal (no stars) to bad (one star) to two stars (fair) to three (pretty good) to four (very good) to five (excellent).
I mention this because the new Dreamworks Animation film has left me in a bit of a quandary. It's better than its predecessor and is well made, colourful and reasonably engaging with pretty good characterisation. On the other hand, it's predictable, sometimes repetitive, and has a messy recap at the beginning. But you could do worse for family entertainment.
The Croods: A New Age (not The Croods 2 as it is sometimes referred to, understandably) has arrived seven years after the original movie. This sequel was apparently developed, cancelled, resumed and completed remotely during the pandemic. To its credit, these production hiccups are not apparent in the final film.
We start with that reminder about how orphaned Guy (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) came to be with the cavedwelling Croods as a suitor for Eep (Emma Stone), to the chagrin of her protective father Grug (Nicolas Cage). The family is still fighting to survive the dangers and deprivations of its primitive world but survive by remaining close, physically and emotionally and Grug doesn't like the idea that Guy and Eep might go off to start their own pack.
Then something with the potential to be lifechanging happens. The Croods - other family members include sensible mother Ugga (Catherine Keener), Gran (nonagenarian Cloris Leachman in another feisty old lady role) and dim son Thunk (Clark Duke) - come across a huge fence.
Inside, they find a huge, lush, safe garden, safe, irrigated and full of nature's bounty, formed and inhabited by another family, the Bettermans. Hope (Leslie Mann) and Phil (Peter Dinklage) and their daughter Dawn (Kelly Marie Tran). The Bettermans - more technologically advanced, more sophisticated - are cautiously welcoming of the destructive, primitive Croods though the fathers, in particular, don't really hit it off.
One of the issues is that the Bettermans knew Guy's parents and hope to set him up with Dawn. The question of whether Guy would rather remain in what seems to be a lush paradise or return to a dangerous subsistence life wouldn't seem to be a difficult one. However, the sheltered Dawn, surprisingly, seems less intrigued by Guy and more interested in hanging out with her fearless new friend Eep. Meanwhile, Thunk wants to spend all his time inside looking through the treehouse window (his "television") - this becomes a running gag but it soon wears thin.
The film seems at times to be a subtle parody of the clash between Blue-state/Red-state America, with the advanced (apparently) progressive Bettermans contrasted with the less advanced, conservative Croods - though it's careful to emphasise that each family has its strengths and weaknesses. The fathers, in particular, come in for scrutiny: one thing they have in common is they are overprotective of their daughters, albeit out of love.
Phil repeatedly insists that the Croods not touch the garden's bananas much to Grug's annoyance. It turns out there's a good reason for this, one which will eventually force the families to put aside their differences and join forces. That Phil doesn't tell the Croods why the bananas are off-limits seems contrived more for suspense than any reason that makes sense.
The Croods: A New Age has a few of the pop-culture references that often seem obligatory in this kind of film (some well-known songs dot the soundtrack and Phil has a "mancave" to which he retreats periodically), While the film feels a little unambitious and the number of characters means some get dealt with more interestingly than others, it's pleasant enough holiday entertainment.