While not a cinematic touchstone, “The Croods” was an above-average animated offering — even nominated for an Oscar, no less — that somehow took eight years to finally arrive on the silver screen. So, too, is its sequel, “The Croods: A New Age,” coming seven-plus years after the original entry — with a forgettable 3-year Netflix series in between — and a pre-production odyssey that saw the project canceled in late 2016, then renewed 10 months later. It is an oddly uneven journey for an otherwise entertaining, if run-of-the-mill movie whose current significance is less the on-screen product and more being one of the few new films opening in theaters during this worldwide pandemic. If you are starved for theater fare, you could do a lot worse than plucking down 10 bucks for this prehistoric piffle.
The strength of “Croods: A New Age” rests again on its voice actors, a surprising who’s who of A-to-B-list talent sporting acumen at the animated medium (and none of whom participated in the Netflix series). The family Croods are still searching for the mystical utopia of “Tomorrow,” the ancestral home of teenage caveboy Guy (Ryan Reynolds), who promises his adopted family a safe haven from the wilds of the world. Meanwhile, Guy and Eep Crood (Emma Stone) are growing closer, which unnerves Crood patriarch Grug (Nicolas Cage), who shirks at the prospect of losing his oldest daughter and breaking up the tight-knit Crood clan.
The Croods suddenly happen upon Tomorrow, a fortified oasis inhabited only by the Bettermans, a trio comprising hippy-dippy dad Phil (Peter Dinklage) — the most obvious embodiment of the titular “New Age” — uptight wife Hope (Leslie Mann) and sheltered daughter Dawn (Kelly Marie Tran, Rose from “Star Wars”), who was also Guy’s childhood mate. Phil and Hope invite the Croods to share their paradise, even as they look down on their less-evolved visitors, in order to nudge Guy and Dawn together before hopefully sending the Croods away again. Before long, the Croods are taking showers, wearing shoes and sleeping in separate rooms. Son Thunk (Clark Duke) becomes obsessed with watching the world from the confines of his tree house through a picture window, a witty play on our modern television culture.
The Bettermans have but one rule: no one is permitted to eat even one of the bounty of bananas growing in Tomorrow. The Croods eventually learn the reason behind this Eden allegory the hard way. The result is a loud, numbing final act that involves the men being kidnapped by marauding punch monkeys (yes, they’re monkeys that communicate by punching), then being rescued by the womenfolk when they form an action squad named the Thunder Sisters, a cheeky play on the Vuvalini from “Mad Max: Fury Road.”
The character arcs are predictable. Snobby, smart-alecky Phil needs to be brought down a peg or two. Hope needs to let her hair down, literally and figuratively. And the cloistered Dawn needs to see the world outside Tomorrow’s walls, a task the rambunctious Eep is eager to undertake.
“The Croods: A New Age” is not traditional holiday fare, and if it garners film award accolades it will be largely due to the paucity of this year’s competition. Still, a late-2020 story about a family’s sojourn out of the dark wilderness and into a bright new day feels as on-the-nose as the Bettermans’s surname. As for the plot twist that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, well, we’ll have to wait until 2021 to figure that one out.