Even admirers of 2013’s “The Croods” quite possibly never thought about it again until the announcement of “The Croods: A New Age,” opening in theaters for Thanksgiving and coming soon to streaming platforms. And while this latest adventure doesn’t meet the highest standards of DreamWorks Animation sequels — the second “How to Train Your Dragon” and “Kung Fu Panda” films outshone the first — this prehistoric saga maintains the clockwork-crafted comedy in a wildly colorful bygone era.
The titular Stone Age family faces new mashup species of predators (including wolf spiders, land sharks, otter-narwhal hybrids, and monkeys that communicate via slaps and punches), but they must also fend off the threat of snobby homo erectus gentrifiers.
A brief prologue provides a useful recap of the plot so far: Cavegirl Eep (voiced by Emma Stone) has fallen for fire-bearing, slightly more evolved Guy (Ryan Reynolds), who is now traveling the landscape with the entire Crood clan, including father Grug (Nicolas Cage), mother Ugga (Catherine Keener), slacker son Thunk (Clark Duke), feral girl Sandy (Kailey Crawford), and the wizened Gran (Cloris Leachman). Eep and Guy’s teen lovey-talk annoys everyone, but when they discuss finding a place for themselves, Grug panics and sets about finding a paradise for all of them.
He seemingly finds one behind a wall, where the food is plentiful, but never trust a gated community — it’s the home of the Bettermans, Phil (Peter Dinklage) and Hope (Leslie Mann), old friends of Guy’s parents, and their daughter Dawn (Kelly Marie Tran). Phil has created this lush orchard by diverting water from the mountaintop — and if you don’t think thoughtless exploitation of the environment isn’t going to come back and hurt him later, welcome to the world. When he and Hope aren’t condescending to the Croods, they’re scheming to get Eep out of the picture so that Dawn can get together with Guy.
It’s a testament to the screenplay (by a quartet of writers, working from a story by original “Croods” directors Kirk DeMicco and Chris Sanders) that Dawn and Eep don’t act like rivals over a boy; on the contrary, each is thrilled to finally have a fellow teen girl to hang out with. All of the women in the film, in fact, will eventually find themselves channeling Gran’s ancient-warrior spirit to come to the rescue of Eep, Phil, and Guy, who run afoul of those afore-mentioned Punch Monkeys.
While DeMicco and Sanders mixed cartoonishly-designed protagonists and mythical beasts against a nearly photorealistic landscape, “The Croods: A New Age” director Joel Crawford (a DreamWorks vet making his feature directorial debut) goes for brighter colors, particularly within the Bettermans’ compound, where fruits of wildly fluorescent hues grow around every corner. Stylistically, it works, suggesting a planet shifting from the deadly terrain of the first film to one that will better accommodate human beings.
As with the first movie, there’s a lot of attention paid to setting up gags and paying them off later (there’s a rule-of-three bit involving a stick that’s a gem), and those inclined to look for a political undercurrent will find one in this tale of a smug guy with a man-bun and a compost heap and a literal knuckle-dragger who need to listen to women and young people if they want to stay alive.
Once again, Cage seems to be funnier and more focused voicing a caveman dad than he can be in some of his more outrageous live-action projects, and Dinklage and Mann make the most out of these new characters; he’s exaggeratedly insufferable while she, for most of the film, hits all the notes of playing history’s first “Karen.”
You may never have thought you needed or even wanted a sequel to “The Croods,” but you may find it a pleasant surprise in a year where most of the surprises have been anything but.