The Croods: A New Age (PG)
Starring the voices Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Catherine Keener, Kelly Marie Tran,
Directed by Joel Crawford
Gotta admit this. I'm partial to old things. Being one myself too.
Which means that I dig this idea about an ancient family of squabbling cave dwellers called the Croods.
This favoured living space here adds further to the personal appeal of this animation flick for me because you should see the dark, dank cave which I stay in. It's called, “My room”.
A cartoon that's so personally relatable, I tell you, is everything.
Especially when the characters in this sequel are still voiced by its returning cast of Ryan Reynolds, Emma Stone and Nicolas Cage who may or may not have brought his basic primal instincts to the lunch breaks here. I mean, have you seen those neanderthal straight-to-video duds he enjoys making?
Anyway, going back to prehistoric times, circa 2013, when the original movie, The Croods, appeared, I'll say that the first flick, a considerable hit co-written by Brit comedian John Cleese, was better than this one.
Yes, that John Cleese from Monty Python. Apparently he co-created these characters. Perhaps realising that his untamable Python teammates from their Jurassic comedy days resembled a bunch of cavemen too.
Look, this follow-up, The Croods: A New Age, isn't bad-bad. It's lively enough, trotting along amiably and harmlessly the way any good cartoon from DreamWorks usually does. Problem is, it's also so-so because it suffers expectedly from that interminable cinematic disease called “sequelitis”.
Compared to the superior original, this comeback is okay but no big shakes as the Crood brood stumbles upon a miraculous, over-friendly higher form of civilisation called the Bettermans. Geddit? Better man?
Now if you've seen that first show, you'd know that it was funnier, cleverer and, of course, fresher. Plus, back then, the plot contained a sharper and more grown-up clash of cultures between two opposing primeval world views that just seemed more creative and meaningful compared to this new face-off which looks merely like hi tech vs no tech.
In that initial toon, the primitive cave folks — led by their grumpy, fossilised big daddy, Grug (Cage) — met a more advanced teenage dude, Guy (Reynolds). The intruder is an agent of change who threatens stubborn dinosaur Grug in a seriously hipster manner in that he's into pre-modern things — like shoes, a fast mouth, rad attitude and something really groundbreaking called “fire”.
Worse, this anarchic kid emitting bad revolutionary juju upon archaic Grug's susceptible tribe just doesn't see his forever home as being a lousy cave where everybody snores together in a pile. “The pack is stronger together,” Grug insists, like Donald Trump corralling his children.
Guy fell for Grug's hunter-tough daughter, Eep (Stone). Kinda like a boy from District Ten in Singapore hooking up with a gal from District Tent. And his evolved ways offended crude Mr Crood so much that the initial movie was one big topical, comical showdown between flustered father-in-law and future son-in-law.
Man, it was a great inventive set-up which any pop-in-law could've seen together with his annoying jerk-in-law without killing him. You know, just like that good first Ice Age cartoon. But filled with catty humans instead of chatty animals.
This sequel, kiddie-fied to sillier, more juvenile fun, however, looks like an extended version of The Flintstones with a huge dose of King Kong thrown in. That's right, we're talking monkeys here. Lots and lots of simian thingies called “punch monkeys” — a gag species recycled from the first flick — who communicate by punching the crap out of people. Making it right up the dumb-joke alley of party meister Reynolds as the resident joke jock here.
The Croods, following the destruction of their cave abode at the end of the first tale, now journey to a magical but mysteriously walled-up promised land which, if you're old enough to notice, red-flags your inner King Kong since something pretty disagreeable has to be lurking just beyond that high wall.
Their newfound paradise is an oasis stocked with giant fruits, blissful wonder and fancy Stone Age-y modern contraptions that look like they were built by the Swiss Family Flintstone. Vine-hauled elevators, separate huts up in the trees for, gosh, everybody and, wow, an amazing new source of entertainment called a window. “Time to watch some late night window” — someone here quips. Most apt invention — a private hideaway below a waterfall for guys that's dubbed a “man cave”. Geddit? Man cave?
As the iffy owners of this Club Mad outpost, Phil Betterman (Peter Dinklage), looks like an escapee from Silicon Hidden Valley with his casual vibe and New Age-y beard. While his missus, Hope (Leslie Mann), is so snootily strung up by her phobia of uncouth cavemen, she's been ready since yesterday for her primary primordial meds.
Turns out that they know Guy from way back when. The diabolical motive behind their phony friendliness is to break up Guy's lovebird connection with Eep – “He gives her butterflies in her stomach and not just the ones she ate for breakfast” — and then pair the dude with their daughter, Dawn (Kelly Marie Tran). She's a curious neophyte who's more interested in having adventures beyond the wall to acquire battle stars and basically free herself from over-parenting.
At which point, I started to think, hey, maybe this could be The Maze Runner: Crood Version. Until I saw the kids around me lapping the show up with glee and me wondering how a very noisy monkey frenzy here could ever be so compelling.
Oh, silly old me. This deal is primarily for the young ones.
And, yep, primally too. (***)
Photo: DreamWorks Animation/UIP