THE WASHINGTON POST – For anyone who missed The Croods, – the animated 2013 comedy about the survival struggles of a family of cave-dwelling Neanderthals – and their encounter with a more advanced hominid, in the form of the Ryan Reynolds-voiced Guy – the new sequel opens with a brief prologue, bringing us up to speed for the next chapter in this highly fanciful re-telling of the Dawn of Man.
As The Croods: A New Age gets underway, the titular family – Nicolas Cage and Catherine Keener as Grug and Ugga Crood, with Emma Stone as their now-besotted teenager daughter Eep, all gaga for Guy – have piled onto the back of their rainbow-hued saber-toothed tiger (other family members in tow) to explore the world beyond their humble cavern.
The film’s central tension arises when the protagonists run into the Bettermans, a family as evolved as the Croods are primitive, who live in a paradisiacal encampment with bedding, showers and the like. They’re gatherers to the Croods’ hunters, and the culture clash between the two clans fuels the serviceable narrative.
A side plot involves the romantic rivalry between Eep and the adolescent Dawn Betterman (Kelly Marie Tran), whose social-climbing parents (Peter Dinklage and Leslie Mann) think that Guy is a better match for their child than he is for Eep and her knuckle-dragging kin. The theme of female empowerment – centred on the growing friendship between Eep and Dawn, and incorporating some climactic heroics on the part of other female characters, including Eep’s grandmother (Cloris Leachman) – tempers the dumb, throwback dynamic of two girls fighting over a boy.
A scene in which Eep and Dawn go out joyriding on the Croods’ big cat – and from which Dawn returns loopy on bee venom after a sting – establishes that this tale is not going to cling to fossilised cliche.
But the anarchic spirit of the film suggests the screenwriters (brothers Kevin and Dan Hageman, Paul Fisher and Bob Logan) may also have been a little high on bee venom when they wrote this thing. One of the modest delights of the original film was its imaginative use of hybrid animal species that never existed: bear fish; piranha birds and such.
That quality continues – to an almost absurd degree – in A New Age, whose climax involves such trippy “Croodaceous” creatures as wolf spiders, punch monkeys and a confrontation with a spiny mandrilla: a behemoth that is part gorilla, part mandrill, part spiny anteater and part King Kong.
Okay: So nobody said the movie was a lesson in paleobiology.
What you (or your impressionable kids) might take away from this larky, slightly lunatic film is a moral about social collaboration and community. Those things are signs of cultural sophistication – evidence that we’re not troglodytes anymore – that, sadly, sometimes seem sorely lacking these days.