Life as a family of cave dwellers is no picnic, let me tell ya’. Especially when you’ve left your safe, rocky cave behind.
Grug, the father of the prehistoric Croods clan, may be as burly as a bear (and covered in nearly as much fur). And most of the family members may have the strength of 10 or more of today’s scrawny man-types. But when they’re facing off with a group of huge wolf-spiders, that strength seems small.
Yeah, life’s pretty dangerous for the Croods, so they’ve set off on a journey to find a home that’s more secure. And so they trudge along in the direction of the rising sun, in search of a better “tomorrow.” Along the way, they’ve picked up a new pack member, young Guy. Yes, the pack is stronger because of Guy (and Grug’s teen daughter Eep adores him) but Grug still has his doubts about moving the family through such a dangerous land.
Not only that, but a pack this size—including wife Ugga, son Thunk, small feral daughter Sandy, and old hag Gran—is hard to feed on a few berries and an occasional spider or lizard. Life isn’t easy.
But one day, while scouting for food, Grug finds something amazing: a huge, man-made wall hiding a green land of plenty. There are rows of growing fruit and vegetables. Flowing streams of water. This paradise is exactly what they’ve been seeking—a place to spend all of their tomorrows together, safely.
There’s only one problem: Someone already lives there. Another family of skinny, upright-standing people occupy this place. They have marvelous inventions and live in a massive sprawling treehouse.
And somehow, these people, Phil and Hope Bettermen and their daughter, Dawn, seem to recognize Guy from when he was a boy. They knew his parents long ago. And they welcome Guy and his friends in.
Still, it all feels wrong to Grug.
Better … men, huh? Grug will see about that. He’ll see.
Grug repeatedly says that a family pack is stronger when its members stick together. And that becomes a central through-line here. Grug’s family may be primitive, but they are indeed stronger as a unit. In contrast, the Bettermens’ separate living quarters and advanced “individuality” leave them less united and vulnerable to the dangers of the world. In the end, both families realize that relying on family and friendship, and trusting in the support and strength of others, can benefit everyone.
There are also thoughtful messages here about teens growing up and falling in love. And encouragements for family members to ease their protective grip on kids in order to let that healthy growth and change take place. It’s also implied that committed relationships are very much a part of that growing process.
When moving temporarily into the Bettermens’ treehouse, Thunk becomes enamored with a new invention they have called a window. His obsessed gaze at the world beyond that magical window winks at the idea of teen addiction to screens and the danger of being so tied into viewing that you don’t go out and be a part of the world you’re watching. Thunk eventually opines, “Perhaps the window through which I view the world is flawed.”
Both Grug and Phil realize that to a certain extent, their actions have made them both bad fathers. And they declare their intention to make wiser choices in the future. At one point, Phil shows Grug his “mancave” where he secretly sneaks away to get away from his family—a concept that Grug can’t understand in the slightest. Grug declares his commitment to and desire to be with his wife Ugga.
No direct spiritual elements here. But when the Croods enter the Bettermen compound, they’re told that one of the rules is that you never eat the bananas. And that suggestion of forbidden fruit takes on an almost biblical level of temptation for Grug—a temptation that he eventually gives in to and which causes great harm.
Eep and Guy kiss. And there’s also a narrative tug-and-pull over which teen girl (Eep or Dawn) would be the better match for Guy. Ugga and Grug talk about the possibility of Eep and Guy someday going off to start their own pack (much to Grug’s chagrin).
Both Guy and Dawn wear sloths as fashion accessories. And upon meeting, Dawn’s sloth, Sash, looks at Guy’s sloth, Belt, and murmurs, “ooh la-la.”
Gran talks of once being a part of an Amazon-like pack of women fighters called the Thunder Sisters. And in an effort to revitalize the group, she pulls off her animal skin and reveals her chiseled body dressed in bra and underwear-like undergarments. Grug and Phil wear nothing but loin cloths in Phil’s steam-filled mancave (though the abundantly furry Grug looks no different).
Early on, we see a flashback to a young Guy watching his mother and father, who are stuck in a rising tar pit. They lovingly encourage him to leave them, to turn around and walk toward the safety of “tomorrow” and the rising sun.
There’s lots of slashing and slamming peril to be found in this prehistoric world, from the likes of sharp-toothed critters to lunging beasties, as well as oversized bees, pummeling swarms of monkeys, huge wolf-spider hybrids and a gigantic King Kong-like ape. But those threats are always played as broad, frenetically cartoonish adventures; they’re never too intense or truly scary.
In that light, Eep shows new friend Dawn all the scrapes and scars she’s gained while battling various attacking creatures. Dawn laments, “My parents won’t even let me get scars!” So when, later, a bee stinger is jammed through Dawn’s palm, she celebrates the wound and the badly swollen mitt.
There’s a running gag that involves people and creatures being accidentally poked in the eye by a stick. (There’s no evident injury after an initial yelp.) A large group of monkeys communicate through a language consisting of Three Stooges-like slaps and punches. We also find that there are kick-monkeys, headbutt-monkeys and low-blow monkeys in their midst.
At one point, Grug’s pack believes it’s under attack and creates an outward facing “kill circle.’ But they accidentally pummel Grug with rocks and spears as he walks out of a wooded area. They apologize profusely, but Grug grunts wearily: “Never apologize for an effective kill circle.”
There are several exclamations of “What the heck?” and an “Oh my gosh!” in the dialogue mix. And when told to “just chill,” the hot-headed Grug growls, “I’m gonna chill your—” before being silenced by a loving kick from his mate. Someone is called a “twit.”
Dawn gets stung by a prehistoric bee, and the bee venom causes her to wobble about as if drunk.
In an act of teen rebellion, Eep and Dawn break the rules and cause havoc outside the Bettermen compound walls. They come back in a disheveled, seemingly drunken, state. Some people make choices designed to ostracize and hurt others. But eventually all involved admit to their wrongs and apologize.
The Croods: A New Age is a rare, moving cave-drawing indeed. It started out as a sequel to a fun 2013 film about family togetherness and growth. But through almost pure happenstance, The Croods: A New Age has now become a pic that reflects our current crazy world.
As a cave family, the Croods have to do everything as a pack. They stand back to back facing the dangers of the world, sleeping in a giant pile and locked together for survival. And when encountering the Bettermen family, they face off with people who don’t think like them or understand them, people who are seemingly at total odds with them.
Does any of that remind you of parallels in our Coronavirus plagued culture?
Even if you don’t notice those parallels, though, A New Age is a fun, rollicking film that touches on everything from parental concerns about teenage love, to thoughts about the strong bonds of family, to encouragements to find common ground with others. There are even some winks at kids struggling with too much screen time and nods toward female empowerment. I mean, this family romp is packed with uggs, oops and growls of every thoughtful stripe.
Yes, there is silliness, a bit of troglodyte toilety stuff and some light monstery perils to navigate. (Hey, this is a world full of animated neanderthal goopy dangers, after all.) But it’s all thumped and splatted about with colorful cartoony glee.
In my own grunting assessment, I’d say that if there’s ever gonna be a movie morsel that’ll tempt families to crawl out of their caves, wince in the bright sunlight, and amble back to the movie theaters, this mostly sweet treat might be the one to do it.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.