I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
Preston Barta // Features Editor
Last year, I said THE CROODS: A NEW AGE was the funniest movie I saw in all 2020 releases, and I stand by that. I’ve watched it so many times with my son and replayed plenty of moments in my head. It’s just pure joy from start to finish. But it’s not just funny—it has plenty of heart and meaningful lessons to be learned (and relearned) along the way.
So, what is it and what is it about? Directed with pizzazz by Joel Crawford, who makes his feature directing debut after years working as a story artist on various animation projects, CROODS 2 grabs you as early as the action-packed opening sequence. Audiences are quickly reintroduced to the Croods, the last known family of cavemen (due to all their neighbors getting killed by illnesses, environmental hazards and predators).
Quick question: Do I need to see the first film to enjoy the second? Not really. I honestly didn’t see the first film until after I saw the second. The sequel does a great job of catching you up and making you understand the family dynamics without feeling like a headache to those who’ve seen the first.
OK. Back to it: The Croods are in search of a safer place to call home and are continually dodging wacky-looking prehistoric creatures that could only spill from someone’s imagination. (The koala bat with red coconuts for a bum is a sight gag that made me laugh for a solid five minutes. The sheer absurdity of these animals is comedic brilliance at its finest, especially considering Crawford serenades these moments with tunes from The Partridge Family and Spandau Ballet.)
The central love story between Epp (voiced by Emma Stone) and Guy (Ryan Reynolds) is nothing new from its view on paper. Dad, a.k.a. Grug (an exceptional Nicolas Cage), wants to keep his family together forever. He doesn’t quite understand the meaning of privacy, which causes Guy to dream of a future that involves him and Epp having their own space in Tomorrow, a place in the world equivalent to THE LAND BEFORE TIME’s Great Valley or AVATAR’s Pandora. The clashes between Guy and Grug carry over from the first film, but it’s challenged even further when the Croods meet the Bettermans (emphasis on the “better”) on the other side of a walled-in paradise. The wonderland is covered in fresh fruits, waterfalls, and scenic images fit for your desktop’s wallpaper.
The Bettermans (voiced perfectly by Peter Dinklage, Leslie Mann and Kelly Marie Tran) run this secret garden of sorts with astonishing inventions — such as toilets, showers, and an irrigation system. They are a few steps above the Croods on the evolutionary ladder, living in an elaborate treehouse that feels borrowed from the Ewoks on the Forest Moon of Endor. The Croods are the first house guests that the Bettermans have ever had, so it’s not long before they clash like classic neighbors.
What’s good? So much, really. All throughout, there are clever gags about how much in common our world has with this one. Instead of flat-screen television sets, the Bettermans introduce the caveman family to windows. The Crood family’s son, Thunk (Clark Duke), becomes instantly glued to the window. He wastes no time looking out of it to see surrounding creatures (as opposed to stepping outside the house to see them face to face). The technology bits only get funnier as the movie presses on. (Look out for two different cellphone/tablet gags.)
A NEW AGE thrives on its ridiculousness. It doesn’t hold back like its predecessor. Many of these great scenes involve the Crood’s Gran (the late Cloris Leachman). If she’s not giving Guy the most nightmare-inducing stares, she’s sending her flying wig on adventures like it’s a hawk sending messages. Someone thought of this stuff, and it’s impressive.
How about the colors and visuals in 4K? Well, that’s easy: Damn good. One of the first examples of the HDR color grading pops up in the movie’s first shots, when a young Guy watches darkness fade away as sunshine peaks through the clouds to show beautifully rich and lively colors of nature. Earth’s green grass and blue waters are presented with fabulous punch and vitality, way beyond the Blu-ray’s capabilities. The HDR’s intensity only comes into its own as the film switches from caveman drawing animation to the family outrunning a pack of “Kangadillos” (a cross between kangaroos and armadillos, naturally). The skies are gorgeously deep. Epp’s red hair is one of the most prominent colors throughout the film, and it’s stunning. It’s all punchy, dynamic, and extremely well saturated. It dials into both brightness and depth that breathe new life into the movie (compared to my previous viewings of the film).
The sound? The 4K release features a Dolby Atmos soundtrack, and it does not lack immersive activity one bit. The scene when the Croods are essentially on a drug trip, plowing through pounds and pounds of fruit, is one of the film’s best auditory showoffs. It pulls the listener into the scene, offering a wealth of surround integration as the score amplifies and the Croods make mowing noises with their mouths. The film is sonically concerned with all areas, including environmental nuance, speech, and action dynamics.
Any good bonus features? Definitely!
– Dear Diary: World’s First Pranks – A cute original short film that features Eep and Dawn (Kelly Marie Chan) carrying out a series of pranks on their families.
– Family Movie Night: Little Red Bronana Bread – Another short, where the Croods experience a prehistoric family movie night. They use shadowy puppet figures (similar to an activity included in La Brea Tar Pits’ online event that took place last weekend) to tell a story about Eep trying to keep Gran and some Bronana Bread out of the punch monkey’s hands.
– Gag reel – Line-o-ramas. All the weird sounds the actors have to make for their characters, and how ridiculous it is. It’s only about 2 minutes, but I could watch Nic Cage reciting lines for hours.
– To: Gerard – A super sweet original DreamWorks animated short (nothing to do with the Croods) about a mail sorter who has been inspired by the use of magic his entire life but hasn’t had the chance to shine. Opportunity comes knocking when a young girl wanders into the mailroom. Prepare some tissues.
– Deleted Scenes – Eight deleted scenes with introductions from the director. They are visually realized through storyboards and comic-like animation. It includes Thunk getting into a brawl with a mirror, a funny scene with Grug spying on Phil (should have left it in the movie), more cave time with Phil and Grug, more creature showcases, Thunk missing his dog Doug, and more.
– The Evolution of… – An enjoyable behind-the-scenes making-of featurette, featuring the stars and filmmakers.
– How to Draw: Caveman Style and Famileaf Album – Here are two specials to appease the little ones. It shows families how to draw their favorite CROODS characters and create a family album using real leaves.
– Stone Age Attack – A three-part featurette that teaches families how to make unique recipes, such as a smoothie and fruit treats.
– Filmmakers’ Commentary – An feature commentary with director Joel Crawford, producer Mark Swift, Januel Mercado (Head of Story) and editor Jim Ryan. It’s a pleasant and informative discussion with the filmmakers. The best moments are the filmmakers talking about how they came up with their ideas (the opening, particular jokes, and character details). Them talking about Nicolas Cage was fantastic.
Overall thoughts? The film borders on genius in the way that reworks the original characters, relationships, and themes as well as from a purely visual standpoint. The lighting and skin tones alone are gorgeous and lifelike in 4K. You’ll especially get a kick out of how A NEW AGE pokes fun at parenting and the modern world at large. Those needle drops will give you something to snap your finger about, too.
Film Grade: A-
4K audio/visuals: A+
THE CROODS: A NEW AGE is now available on 4K, Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital.