Review – Never Apologize For An Effective Kill Circle (“The Croods: A New Age”)

A surprise hit back in 2013, The Croods followed a family of prehistoric cave-dwellers that meet an inventive teen that brings them to a newer world that they’re not used to. Now this sequel ups the ante with the Croods meeting another family who live even better!

To briefly recap: we have the Pleistocene Era family, the Croods, led by way over-protective dad, Grug (Nicholas Cage), his dim-bulb son, Thunk (Clark Duke), opinionated mother, Ugga (Catherine Keener), their old and cantankerous grandmother, Gran (Cloris Leachman), a ferocious baby named Sandy, and wild-child teenager Eep (Emma Stone) who gets the whole family going on a wacky adventure after she meets Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a more evolved–and smarter–teenager with plans on traveling to “tomorrow”. By the end, the Croods ‘adopt’ Guy as their own and now live in peace and harmony in a new and safe land. That is, until. . .

One day while exploring they come upon a huge bamboo wall. Crashing through it, they discover not only a beautiful garden of ample food and flowers, but a family living there as well! Meet the inventive Bettermans, father Phil (Peter Dinklage), his wife Hope (Leslie Mann), and their teenage daughter, Dawn (Kelly Marie Tran), who all live in a gorgeous treehouse with separate rooms, “modern” conveniences (like the Flintstones), and only one rule: do NOT eat the bananas! Surprises continue with the Bettermans knowing Guy’s family and Eep freaking out over having another girl her age with whom to talk.

But while Guy and the rest are right at home with this new family, Grug isn’t having any of it. He’s losing his grip on ‘his pack’ with the smooth talking Bettermans and their super-cool clothing and lifestyle. Just as Eep is showing Dawn how to be a bad girl and steal the family car. . . I mean, the huge sabre-tooth kitty out for a joy ride, Phil is trying to marry off Dawn to Guy, which never goes anywhere because there’s a bigger problem on the horizon. A humongous tribe of punch-monkeys that attack after Grug and Ugga ate all their sacrificial bananas! Uh-oh!

While Phil, Guy, and Grug are taken prisoner by the punch-monkeys and await execution by a King Kong sized ape, all the women band together (can you say GIRL POWER!?) to form their own super-hero tribe (with their own special names, no less!) and go to save the stupid men from certain death. I gotta admit, I never thought I’d see a sequel that was funnier and more enjoyable than the original. Although the third act was a bit forced and overly-indulgent, I was thoroughly engaged with these characters and caught up with the story, plot holes and all.

Animated sequels usually are underwritten because they’re, well, animated sequels. What surprised me was the fact this movie excelled in it’s story, dialogue, and structure, and this from not one, but four writers, usually a death-sentence with animated features. Dan & Kevin Hageman (The Lego Movie) and Paul Fisher & Bob Logan (The Lego Ninjago Movie) wrote some very witty, clever, and biting humor (the dinner scene alone is comedic gold), and being 2020, the movie had to conclude with all-out, gung-ho, fist-pumping, woman empowering twist, thus proving that all men are idiots that need saving from strong, brave women.

What’s equally surprising is newbie director Joel Crawford. This is his debut as a motion picture animated feature film director, having only done only a Trolls animated short and many story artist gigs. But his lightning fast (this movie’s only 85 minutes) sequel is fast-paced, has great sight-gags (Thunk obsessed with watching “window”, i.e.,TV), and the action sequences are incredibly nuts with the camera spinning everywhere. Crawford must’ve seen many a Robert Zemeckis or Richard Williams film.

And the voice talents are just as fun. You get Nick Cage and Peter Dinklage trading off lines with each other and that’s just pure genius. Throw in the exuberance of Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, and Kelly Marie Tran, and this is a party just waiting to happen. The silly lovey-dovey romance of Eep & Guy is hilarious. A victim of the virus, it was showing in limited release in only a few theaters, but thankfully it’s now available on VOD (like FandangoNow) for a price. Is it worth it? Yes! Is it for both the kiddies at home and the parents? Oh yeah!   


Early Man (2018)

No one puts as much effort into their movies as Nick Park. CG animation is one thing, but stop-motion animation is time consuming, exhausting, and requires copious amounts of effort and patience. Just look at his painstakingly creative Wallace & Gromit shorts and his exceptional movie, Chicken Run and you’ll see what I mean. 

With no shortage of puns (“eat your primordial soup”) and a British tongue in cheek, Park sets his sights on a bunch of not-so-bright cavemen (and women) that come from a long ancestral line of other cavemen that, believe it or not, invented football from a wayward meteor (uh. . . we call it ‘soccer’ over here across the pond). A millennia and many ages later, cave dweller & hunter-gatherer Dug (voiced by Eddie Redmayne) and leader, Chief Bobnar (Timothy Spall), are out hunting the fearsome rabbit with their looney tribe of nitwits (including their pet, an anthropomorphic wild boar named Hobnob), when they run right into the Bronze Age! Surprise!

Looks like their secluded cave home was only a few miles away from a bustling, over-populated feudal township loaded with every bronze nick-knack, weapon, and household amenity you can think of. Clumsy Dug, through a series of wacky circumstances, gets himself caught in their Roman Coliseum-ish game of football, under the powerful dictatorship of Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddelston with a hilarious French accent), a visionary eccentric and narcissistic ruler. But seeing that his perfectly unbeaten team needs a rival team to play. . .or ANY team, for that matter, gives Dug an ultimatum: either play his team or else his tribe gets sent to the mines. FOREVER!  

But what lousy team is there without a ringer for their group? Enter Goona (Maisie Williams), a local merchant in town who’s not only an ace footballer, but she was banned as a player (girls aren’t allowed to play! Horrors!). While she’s coaching the Dug’s inept gang with a training montage, we learn that Lord Nooth’s harpy of a wife, Queen Oofeefa (Miriam Margolyes), is dead-set against the match. She even dictates her anger through a ‘message-bird’, one of the funnier scenes in the movie. Hijinks ensue left and right as Dug needs balls to play with, Hobnob is caught in Lord Nooth’s bathroom, and Goona tries to help Dug find his balls.

If you ever saw The Longest Yard, you pretty much know what happens in the end. So who wins in the final match? Gee, give you one guess! You really have to appreciate the time and effort that goes into making a film of this nature. One minute of stop-motion animation equals one weeks worth of time. That’s crazy! However, it’s all worth it on the screen with these bizarre looking people having goofy over-sized teeth. The script by Mark Burton (Gnomeo & Juliet) and first-timer James Higginson, has a bounty of sight gags, loads of puns, innuendos, and plays-on-Prehistoric-words, and a very kid-friendly script that adults can have fun with too.

Director Nick Park knows how to set up and deliver joke in animation, especially when the character never utters a word. Fans of his Creature Comforts or Wallace & Gromit short films already know this. Park has been doing this since 1985 and really honed his skill as an animator with his patience paying off in yet another winning movie. Even the voice talent are hilarious to listen to, a second attribute that Park makes sure he  gets right. Oh sure, there are other animators that deal in stop-motion: Henry Selick and his gorgeous Nightmare Before Christmas, Laika Entertainment’s amazing Kubo and the Two Strings, and Mikros Image Canada for their stunning The Little Prince, to name a few, but Park is still one of my favorites.

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