DreamWorks Animation (November 25 2020), Universal Home Entertainment (February 23 2021), two discs, 96 mins plus supplements, 4K UHD and 1080p high-definition widescreen 2.35:1, Dolby Atmos Audio, Rated PG, Retail: $44.98


Everyone’s favorite stone-age family — no, not that one! — are back for more of the same.

The Sweatbox Review:

I must admit that, if it hasn’t been Disney-branded (and I include Pixar in that designation), then I haven’t been the best in keeping up with the recent rush of animated films in the past five years or so. Not only is time a continuing pressure in picking what to watch and when, but a lack of really striking new concepts and titles that truly jump out amongst the increasingly homogeneous offerings doesn’t help. Indeed, even given the extra amount of screentime that the current pandemic has not entirely benevolently bestowed upon us, I’ve been looking back over a hundred years of cinema to catch up on many older — and better — flms that offer just as much, if not more, entertainment value than whatever CG blaze of color and shouting du jour.

And so, when DreamWorks’ latest plopped on the Animated Views review desk, I needed to turn back the clock, if not to prehistoric times then at least to 2013 (although in the current climate, it’s almost the same thing) and check out the original filmas a catch-up! The original Croods actually stands up well, even if I found the tone to be a little all over the place and the kooky “camera work” slightly erratic. And I could never make Nicholas Cage’s voice fit daddy caveman Grug: as much as I love the guy, his rather raspy it light delivery never quite landed the character with the weight that, say, a Vin Diesel or someone gruffer would have brought to it, although it turned out to mostly be Emma Stone’s movie anyway, as part of an otherwise fantastic ensemble cast.

The result of the breakup between DreamWorks’ and its deal with Aardman Animation, where the two companies had been developing the project, then named Crood Awakening, together, DreamWorks got to keep the overall property whereas Aardman parlayed whatever concepts they had been nurturing into the slightly similar inventor-caveman stop-motion feature Early Man (with Aardman’s Peter Lord and David Sproxton still receiving thanks in The Croods‘ credits). But whatever its fractured genesis, and despite this number of fine actors and people involved (Chris Sanders! Comedy legend John Cleese! An Alan Silvestri score!), The Croods‘ parts didn’t quite add up to the promise of the whole, as entertaining but forgettable as the film was.

But, as much as I found the first film frankly bizarre in parts, I hadn’t actually disliked it, and so it was with a fair amount of anticipation that we returned to the well the next night for more Croodity with A New Age, the second film in a franchise that also includes an intervening television spin-off series. Unlike that Netflix show, it’s nice that The Croods: A New Age manages to pull back the entire vocal cast, not only for consistency but because the actors now know the characters more and can perhaps inhibit them to a greater degree. Unfortunately, this also either seems to have given them all free reign just to play faster and looser with their personalities, or new director Joel Crawford isn’t as strong as Sanders in keeping everything under control.

Again I found Cage miscast, and if that’s perhaps not as much as first time around then it’s probably because I knew what was coming. But these aren’t really Grug’s films anyway, and again Stone’s Eep takes the nominal lead, although here the filmmakers seem to have become enamored by Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool act and turn the film into a two-hander, and little else, that just eventually becomes an Emma and Ryan show by the midway point. And it’s all just so random! The first third is possibly funnier, and certainly faster, than the first film, but this is mostly down to the bonkers nature of the cast and relentless gags, not least a slightly hyper Cage (yes, even more so than usual) who just seems to be playing to the idea of what we have come to expect from him rather than imbuing Grug with any real sensitivity or groundedness that we got first time out.

Indeed, as a sequel, A New Age goes the traditional and predictable route of both following on from a first film and resetting things so that the characters can again go on their story arc journeys. So, despite settling all differences and becoming a whole family of understanding at the end of part one, here Grug is again at odds with Reynolds’ Guy, and struggles with his role as head of the family, while everyone else does more of what they did in the first one. And the filmmakers know there isn’t much story in all this, because they resort to papering over the cracks with the barrage of thick and fast gags and reliance on nutty performances.

So it isn’t much of a surprise when they make it to their supposed paradise — actually quite quickly, as there isn’t much else to do with these characters — only to find it isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be, just settling in when they discover their new home is actually already occupied by another, predictably annoying (I’m with Grug here) family, the Bettermans (geddit!?), and their daughter, voiced by Kelly Marie Tran on her way to being promoted to lead vocalist in Disney’s Raya And The Last Dragon, and a very good job she does too, being slightly more dialled down from everyone else and playing off Stone and Reynolds well as the triangle that engulfs them all takes over the story.

But there are way too many safe and predictable beats that call back from scores of previous movies, from the annoying new family to the battles between fathers and daughters alike, and boring old gags that, yes, includes a “giant” threat that turns out to actually be a tiny little creature…only to then prove to be lethal anyway. This is studio filmmaking by the numbers, with all the 21st century beats hit, sometimes to overwhelming effect and so played for laughs all the time that stakes are never placed high enough to ever have any consequence or engage one in any investment, emotionally or otherwise.

Once again, the visually inventiveness of the many prehistoric creatures the Croods come across are the whimsical highlights of the film, and when the film is funny it can genuinely raise a few chuckles, even if a teased story point about bananas makes absolutely zip sense (if Better-Dad has been feeding them to the evil monkeys for safety, then why are there still so many bananas? Why doesn’t anyone notice them going missing when they are told not to eat them? What does it matter if Grug has one or two? Was any of this actually thought out or was it a late addition to give some kind of big ending to a film in which little actually happens other than running and talking?).

Of course, little of this will matter to the young kids who power these films and haven’t seen the mountains of movies that this rips…uh, takes inspiration from, and anyone who just leaves their brain at the door will find a few laughs, even if they are few and far between amongst the lazily formulaic filmmaking (which seems even moreso than usual). There are likewise very few bones thrown out to older audiences who might sit through this with their kids, and who will probably find that often the best gags are actually the least “whatever, just throw it all in” moments.

But it’s great to hear Cloris Leachman make a final career mark as Gran, and there’s no real faulting the overall vocal cast’s intentions, however one may feel it would be nicer if they had better to work with and a script (which, thankfully, at least doesn’t resort to fart jokes or other crood measures) that contained just a smidge of sophistication or substance to carry the humor and therefore make those moments of levity work more and feel better earned.

Is This Thing Loaded?

Hands down the best thing on this 4K disc is the additional short To: Gerard, another under-promoted gem from the DreamWorks short film program and a likely contender for Best Animated Short this year. It’s impossible to shake off the Pixar comparisons when modern CG shorts go the “silent” route with a gentle, heartfelt story told in a cosy manner, albeit with bright and flashy flourishes, and To: Gerard stands shoulder to shoulder with some of that studio’s best. Indeed, if the main feature had contained even an ounce of the warmth this wonderful short has in spades then it might have made more of an impact: as it is, this lovely little film, about how good mentorship can inspire and eventually fulfill even the mentor themselves, was a breath of calm air after all the boisterousness of the feature.

Two more Crood shorts get more attention on the box, though they’re both much more of the fairly standard DVD-extra fare. Dear Diary: World’s First Pranks has more of the hand-drawn style featured in sequences from both Croods films and, as far as I have seen, the television series, and Family Movie Night: Little Red Broanna Bread is an intentionally cheesy silhouette animation of a bedtime story told by Dawn by firelight. A Gag Reel is an unfunny couple of minutes of vocal recording session goof-offs by the cast, though a copious amount of Deleted Scenes expands upon a number of alternate and longer moments in the movie and reveals that even the filmmakers had a hunch that at least some of their ideas stretched even this world’s logic!

The Croods‘ Family Album is this disc’s voice cast featurette, with more vocal booth footage mixed with in-studio crew talk and inserted videocall contributions from the cast members, sans Leachman, obviously, although it’s something of a shame that they only briefly mention her character and miss the opportunity to pay tribute. Evolution Of The Croods is more of the same style but focuses more on the approach to the sequel and how director Crawford didn’t want to particularly go the traditional sequel route by going bigger and broader, but then seems to have made a bigger and broader film anyway.

This is more interesting, though, delving if briefly into some of the thought behind the choices in the film, although I was surprised to hear Crawford’s “piss off Grug”, before he corrects himself to “frustrate Grug”, stay in the final edit, especially for a kids’ disc that plays the extras through right after the film.

How To Draw: Caveman Style is your typical artist running through how to draw what seems to be practically every character from A New Age, while Famileaf Album and Stone Age Snack Attack> are other activities taking their leads from the film and its setting, while suggesting they be carried out under supervision. Lastly, a Feature Commentary track again includes Crawford, along with producer Mark Swift, story head Januel Mercado and editor Jim Ryan. While it does its job of providing some production context, background information and exploring various aspects of the show, there’s a slight lack of pizazz among the participants, considering how many there are and the supposed chemistry they boast of at the top of the chat.

Those who really enjoy the movie may find interest here, and there are some sparks that provide their own entertainment, though it’s not the most engrossing or enlightening of such tracks. That said, it’s great that Universal have still managed to pull together a decent extras package given the obvious pandemic issues in bringing everyone together, albeit virtually, and fill the disc out with all the usual kind of features that support the typical DreamWorks disc release, and fans of the film will be pleased with the insights.

Case Study:

An embossed slip replicates the sleeve art, and contains a Blu-ray edition of all the same content, as well as a Digital HD code.

Ink And Paint:

I didn’t find the colors particularly popped significantly more than the included Blu-ray, but the UHD image is vibrant and detailed, with the HDR predicably dialling down the brightness a tad in order to provide more contrast. Nighttime scenes, of which there are many, look nice, and there’s a depth to the picture, but I also appreciated the brighter and at times more color-popping look of the Blu-ray. Both discs offer up the best presentation of the digitally produced film as could be hoped for.

Scratch Tracks:

As with the image, The Croods: A New Age provides a first-rate 21st century home video experience aurally, with a Dolby Atmos track — on both discs — that makes full use of dialogue, score, source tracks and sound effects, and pounds away throughout for the over the top nature of the movie. Replacing Silvestri on composing duties is Mark Mothersbaugh, reprising some themes, or at least bringing the feel of them back, and supporting everything up with the glue that just about holds the movie together.

Final Cut:

Fans of The Croods will find more of the same here, and likely be content to lap up what’s been provided for a second serving. Watching both films in close proximity, I must confess to enjoying the first one more, mainly for being more focused on its titular family. Second time out, that focus is understandably expanded to fulfill the needs of a typical sequel, but any inventiveness or originality is forsaken for safe, simple storytelling and predictability, where the references can be seen a mile away and may provide a groan from some for just being so obvious and rehashed, even from previous DreamWorks films: often I kept being reminded of Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, for whatever that’s worth, and may give you some kind of indication of how much mileage you’ll get from A New Age. Word is it’s already being worked on, but I’m not sure we really need a potential Third Age, especially when the first film is already so easily available to see again.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?