Eight years is a long time to wait for a family film. Yes, genre icons such as Toy Story can endure generations, but it’s likely that most of the children who were taken along to The Croods in 2013 will now be in their teens and less inclined to follow the adventures of an animated cave family.
Nonetheless, the all-star cast return as Grug (voiced by Nicolas Cage) warily leads his pack across an unforgiving terrain. The pack now includes Guy (Ryan Reynolds), and orphaned caveboy who longs to find the ‘tomorrow’ his late parents promised him. Grug is wary that his closeness to daughter Eep (Emma Stone) will separate the pack, but believes he has found a way of keeping them together when they find a sheltered oasis built by Dawn and Phil Betterman (Leslie Mann and Peter Dinklage), more advanced humans that look down upon their new guests, but have designs on stealing Guy. The growing tension is made worse when a threat from outside the oasis emerges.
The gap between films is acknowledged as Stone recaps the events of The Croods in the first five minutes, and then we’re off to the races with a polished but very familiar story. Paternal protectiveness and a fear of change are persistent themes in animation – this and the hidden oasis are very close to 2009’s Ice Age: Dawn Of The Dinosaurs. The clash with The Bettermans is a funny, thinly veiled stab at gentrification, with enough effective jokes to sustain the middle act until the slapstick-filled finale. While it is formulaic, it follows the formula well.
Dreamworks Animation built itself on well cast franchises such as Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, and Boss baby, and the same can be said here as the talent provides most of the reason for showing up. Cage is hugely charismatic in the lead, putting near-constant irritation into his idiosyncratic drawl. Stone and Reynolds play well off of each other, while the late Cloris Leachman grabs some laughs as the cranky Gran.
Mann and Dinklage will draw a few knowing nods from the grown ups watching as the condescending, stuck up Bettermans (“emphasis on the Better”), although a lot of the references might go over younger heads. Dinklage in particular throws all kinds of comedic wobbles into his vocal performance, and adding to an impressive animated CV that includes The Angry Birds Movies and an Ice Age sequel.
The Croods: A New Age is far from a game changer, but will meet the needs of parents who need an hour and a half of entertainment that won’t leave them bored to tears. A third film wouldn’t be preposterous, but we’re not sure we’d wait another eight years for it.
The Croods: A New Age is in cinemas from 16 July.