The animation in THE CROODS: A NEW AGE is just as lovely as it was in the original. As we find our cave family going through some changes, though, the story, while lively, has a distinctly mid-century sit-com vibe, and not just because that Partridge Family anthem, “I Think I Love You”, is on repeat throughout the soundtrack.
We pick up with the burgeoning teen romance between Eep (Emma Stone) and Guy (Ryan Reynolds). They are going through the cutesy phase of their relationship, much to the displeasure of Eep’s father, Grug (Nicolas Cage), particularly when losing his little girl might take a literal turn. Things are just fine, he opines, with the family sleep pile, the family defensive kill circle, and the other things that keep the pack together. They need to. They live a rough life where everything is trying to kill them. Hence Eep’s dream of a quite place with a babbling brook and lots of butterflies, and, of course, Guy. Fortunately, Grug comes upon just such place. When Guy points out that the abundant food is growing in strangely ordered rows, and the wall around it seems odd, Grug shugs it off until confronted by the supercilious Bettermans, Hope (Leslie Mann), Phil (Peter Dinklage), and their teen daughter, Dawn (Kelly Marie Tran). They’ve created this little piece of paradise to protect Dawn from the dangers of the prehistoric world, and the culture clash between the hunter-gatherers and the neo-farmers takes up most of the rest of the action. That and the Betterman’s plans to marry Dawn off to Guy, whose late parents, it turns out, were the Betterman’s best friends.
Grug may not be thrilled with concepts such as the privacy of separate rooms, or bathing, wife Ugga (Catherine Keener) is delighted. As for Eep, she doesn’t understand why she has to take the proto-elevator to the Betterman’s treehouse instead of just clambering up, and she’s really not thrilled with the way Guy takes to combing his hair into the regulation Betterman man-bun, or starting to wear Betterman-style flip-flops. Dawn, on the other hand, is smitten with the idea of a friend her own age, and soon evinces a strong case of scar envy when Eep explains the ones with which her epidermis is adorned. Do they take a trip outside the wall that freaks out Dawn’s parents? You bet they do!
It all putters along with the Betterman’s chipper passive aggression, Grug’s slow burn, Guy’s growing seduction by the idea of civilization, and Eep’s crisis of self-esteem when Guy calls her a cave woman. The actors put over the jokes, which are not sophisticated, but occasionally land. Even the window as proto-television that captivates Eep’s dim brother, Thunk (Clark Duke). There is also the welcome novelty of having the action female-driven, especially when the reasons for the banana being the one thing off limits in the Betterman’s garden are revealed, and the men of the piece need rescuing. Plus, land sharks and wolf spiders. They are almost as irresistibly silly as the punch monkeys.
Cage once again brings a wistful sweetness to his caveman character bespeaks a big heart with limited tools to express itself. Mann and Dinklage are delightful with their infuriatingly condescension, and Stone provides a larger-than-life personality to Eep full of the enormous adventure of life, even in a kill circle. There is never any doubt about how THE CROODS: A NEW AGE will end. It’s a charming little story about the importance of family that manages to eschew the saccharine.