I’ve always felt The Croods was one of DreamWorks’ most underrated movies. It came across in marketing as a sort of physical comedy with a dumb overprotective dad, Grug, but instead it’s the tale of how a family handles the world changing around them, with the daughter, Eep, leading the way. There’s also much in the original movie about the power of story to create reality.
The movie also featured some amazing new worlds, as the Croods travel from the worlds being destroyed to the one being made, encountering all sorts of strange animal and plant life, including some awesome animal mash-ups like my favorite, Chunky. (I have a stuffed Chunky on my writing desk. He’s so cute.)
That’s why I was pleased to see the property get another life as Dawn of the Croods, a DreamWorks Animation series on Netflix that’s a prequel story of the Croods and the other families that used to surround them. The second season of Dawn of the Croods just premiered on Netflix last week and I chatted with executive Brendan Hay about what viewers can expect from the series, particularly season 2.
Before taking on Dawn of the Croods, Hay worked for The Daily Show, and was a contributing writer for the America (The Book). More recently, he has written for The Simpsons, Robot Chicken, The Mighty B!, and Frank TV, and he was the head writer on the animated Star Wars Detours for Lucasfilm Animation.
Hay and I spoke about Dawn of the Croods in general, what they’ve learned about the show and its audience from season one, and what to expect in season 2.
Corrina Lawson: It sounds like you tried to fill in the “Springfield” around the Croods. Were there any breakout characters from the first season that your writers and the viewers really responded to?
Brendan Hay: Absolutely. And we were really grateful to discover through social media that audiences loved Lerk. I was really happy to see viewers respond to her. She is just such a fun, comfortable-in-her-weirdness character, and voice actress Grey Griffin brings such an off-kilter energy to the character. Our Croo loves her too (Croo = our crew’s nickname for itself), and Season 2 really has some great moments between her and Eep.
Our Croo’s other favorite would have to be Amber, who thankfully also connected with audiences. Laraine Newman found such an amazing voice and rhythm to that character, suggesting this deep inner life to a character who, on the surface, is the most primitive brute in the valley. She definitely became a writers’ room favorite, as almost anything becomes hilarious when translated into Amber-speak.
CL: What’s the story arc for the family in season 2, as opposed to season 1? Will new worlds be opened up or are you building on what’s there right now?
BH: If Season 1 was about establishing what life was like for the Croods in this time before the move, Season 2 is about further exploring Ahhh! Valley. We wanted to develop the Croods’ relationships with their neighbors and dive even further into their work, school, and home lives. The one arc we do track is with Grug, following him as he gradually gets more and more frustrated with life in the valley to the point that—in the season finale—he actually wants to move away. Grug is a character who hates change, so we wanted to try to see if we could move him to a place that he actually craves it.
CL: The original feature starts with that football-like hunting sequence, complete with a marching-band-style song. You’ve worked sports into season 1 as well. What are the plans for season 2?
BH: We go into some different athletic areas, introducing slateboarding (the even cooler/more dangerous version of skateboarding), screamleading (where teens scream cheers loudly to distract prey for the hunters), and our version of a “Hands On A Hard Body”-style endurance test, where various Ahhh! Valleyites compete to see who can keep a hand on a giant egg the longest in order to eat it. We also spend more time at the watering hole, meeting its “deathguards” (who guard against death), and get to see Gran’s “Trials of the Tar Pits” (AKA her obstacle course designed at seeing which kids are fit enough to reach adulthood). Oh, and we have history’s first—and literal—underground dance club. It’s a pretty active season, thinking about it.
CL: How has your background before beginning as showrunner informed how the Croods series was formed?
BH: Oddly, I think my experience at The Daily Show with Jon Stewart has most informed how I approach the Croods. So much of The Daily Show‘s process is about finding catharsis and laughs in dark news, and I think the Croods does that frequently too. We joke in the writers’ room that we’re a family comedy about death, but it’s kind of true. We are about looking at the dangers and problems of caveman times (or our times filtered through the caveman POV) in a funny—and if possible ultimately hopeful—way.
But I take inspiration from everywhere I’ve ever worked because I’ve been lucky to work with so many great folks. The Simpsons is a constant inspiration to us since it is the gold standard every family comedy aspires to. Robot Chicken has taught me to write faster and funnier and makes an 11-minute cartoon feel like a feature film by comparison. And our Croo contributes their experiences too. Our supervising producer Chuck Austen comes to us from King of the Hill and has been incredibly influential in bringing over some of that show’s heart and funny/off-kilter parent/child relationships.
CL: Are there any changes in the way you view Grug, given your new role as the father of twins?
BH: I now fully understand Grug’s fear of change, since already six-months-in I’m realizing that my twins will be changing non-stop every day for the rest of their lives and I feel like I will never be able to keep up! I think the episodes might start to get a little more out there, too, as you get to the batch where I wasn’t sleeping as much.
CL: Any more fun animal mash-ups?
BH: Oh yeah. We do our best to introduce as many new creatures as possible since, well, our whole Croo loves them, if only to see what our amazing design team—led by Angela Mueller—comes up with. In particular, this season introduces some of my favorites, like the Big Chickuna (a chicken fish kaiju), Monkhuahuas (monkey-chihuahua hybrids), and Crabby Tabbies (crab cats who find a like-minded creature in Gran).
Seasons one and two of Dawn of the Croods are currently streaming on Netflix.