– Summary –
Director : Kirk DeMicco + Chris Sanders
Year Of Release : 2013
Principal Cast : Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Catherine Keener, Clarke Duke, Cloris Leachman, Chris Sanders, Randy Thom.
Approx Running Time : 98 Minutes
Synopsis: A fearful prehistoric family, living in a cave in a desolate part of the world, suddenly find their lives turned upside down by discovering they aren’t alone in the world; a young human carrying fire warns them of a coming apocalypse (the supercontinent Pangaea is splitting apart) and after their home is destroyed, they go on a journey into a seemingly idyllic paradise where they hope to be safe.
What we think : Sporadically funny animated film leaps, bounds and hammers itself into the ground trying to entertain; there’s no shortage of eye-candy on display here, and the style of the film is superbly rendered, yet the story feels too cumbersome (it’s a journey film, mixed with a Message about Fear) and characters too pop-culture savvy to nail every element perfectly. The Croods is immaculate to look at, and the entertainment value is high, but the message the film tries to impart is sledgehammer repetitive and lacking in nuance. A bright, slickly designed film that will kill off 100 minutes of a rainy afternoon.
Not the Flintsones, but there’s plenty of yabba-dabba-do!
Hands up if you ever saw the 90’s claymation animated series, Gogs! If you did, you’ll have a fair idea what to expect with The Croods. While The Croods isn’t animated by stop motion (it’s fully CG) there’s a similarity in the sense of humor that I found appealing, and while the Crood family is obviously marketed towards a younger audience than Gogs ever was, it’s that ironic, slapstick humor that shines through in both franchises. The film features what can only be described as a “start studded” selection of vocal performers, ranging from Emma Stone to Nic Cage (roll your eyes, fanboys!) and the ever wonderful Cloris Leachman, and is animated with such depth and detail it’s often jaw-dropping. The Croods‘ story seems somewhat familiar, though, and I think older children and adults will find many of the story arcs and narrative a little too same-same from other animated films. This isn’t a harsh criticism more than it is a simple observation – animated films are largely designed to present younger kids with moral and ethical (and social) dilemmas and messages: don’t steal, trust your parents, look both ways before crossing the road etc etc, all valid ideas, but ones which crop up time and again through these kinds of movies. Therefore, adults might tend to feel The Croods is a tad predictable. Again, not a criticism, just an observation. The question really should be whether or not The Croods stacks up as an overall entertainment package, considering what it’s trying to do, does it do it well?
Synopsis courtesy Wikipedia: Eep (Emma Stone) is a girl in a family of cavemen living and hunting in pre-historic times, talking about how her family is one of the few to survive, mainly due to the strict rules of her overprotective father, Grug (Nicolas Cage). In their cave home, Grug tells a story to the family, which includes his wife Ugga (Catherine Keener), his daughter Sandy, his son Thunk (Clark Duke), and his mother-in-law Gran (Cloris Leachman) with a character who mirrors Eep’s curious nature. He uses this story to warn the family that exploration and ‘new things’ pose a threat to their survival, and says to never not be afraid. This irritates the bored and adventurous Eep, and when the family falls asleep after dark, she ignores her father’s advice and leaves the cave when she sees a light moving outside. Seeking the light’s source, she meets Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a clever and inventive caveboy. She at first attacks him but then becomes fascinated with the fire he creates and is eager to learn more. He tells her about his theory that the world is reaching its ‘end’ and asks her to join him. She refuses and Guy leaves, but not before giving her a noise-making shell to call him if she needs help. Eep is then caught by Grug (who had been searching for her), and is later grounded for what she had done. Grug brings Eep home and is joined by the rest of the family, who Eep tells about Guy and shows the shell given to her, only for them to destroy it in fear of ‘new things’. An earthquake then occurs, sending everyone running for the cave, only to be stopped by Grug moments before the cave is destroyed by falling rocks. They climb over the wreckage to discover a land with lush vegetation, much different from their usual surroundings of rocky terrain. Grug takes his family into the forest to find a new cave, with Guy being dragged along as well.
So you’re a caveman scavenging off the desolate land around your cave, fearful of death at every single turn, huddling in the darkness each night hoping the carnivores beyond the boulder blocking the entrance cannot gain access; your daughter, meanwhile, is a headstrong, rebellious, curious youngster, who seeks to break the bonds of your protectiveness, much to your chagrin. The Croods‘ obvious central conceit – the antagonism between Eep and Grug – is hugely familiar to anyone who’s ever seen… a film; even though the film treads through largely familiar character-territory, directors Kirk DeMicco and Chris Sanders (Sanders wrote and directed Disney’s Lilo + Stich) leave no stone unturned (ha ha!) in keeping your attention on the screen even when things start to become a little predictable. I say predictable – you know Eep and Grug will eventually sort out their differences, and come to an understanding, so the outcome is never really in question; rather, it’s the journey which is most interesting from a film-making standpoint, and The Croods‘ journey is indeed fascinating. The addition of Guy, an outsider to the Croods, is the pivot point on which Eep starts to find herself realizing a new emotion (love) and starting to become an independent person, which in itself is another foundational story arc found in nearly every second film ever made.
So no, The Croods doesn’t contain a unique or startlingly revelatory cinema experience, but even in the face of rampant “been there, done that” in terms of character, the scenario these characters are placed in is so well developed and so skillfully entertaining, it almost doesn’t matter. The Croods favors fun and extravagance than heartfelt emotion, although casual viewers might say the angst between Eep and Grug presents some momentary emotional heft, but deeper consideration would say that it’s tepid, almost lip-service at best. This isn’t a slight on DeMicco and Sanders’ scripting, rather it just seems like they’ve taken the shorthand, easy-option route in giving us characterization. It can’t all be chases and fights and explosions. The film rips along at a cracking pace, momentarily usurped by the Eep/Guy relationship development (which again feels almost Generic Romance than anything unique), with plenty of gargantuan action set-pieces and visual effects to keep even the most attention demanding children swayed to the films’ charms. The animation (and I get the feeling I’m repeating myself each time I review a modern CG film) is superb, with the rendering and clarity of the film just immaculate. Colors pop, the use of light and shade in darker moments of the film, and the sheer quantity of particulates throughout the movie, all add up to present a film that leaves one gobsmacked at how much effort has gone into it.
The vocal cast do great work, even if their characters aren’t that unique or even interesting. Grug and Eep represent the core of the films’ emotional weight, and Emma Stone and Nic Cage bring decent tones and subtlety to their work in representing these characters. Eep reminds me a great deal of Pixar’s Princess Merida (right down to the hair), including her rebellious streak, although she’s nowhere near as anti-misogyny as Merida was, Eep strives for independence while still trying to be inclusive of her family, faults and all. Nic Cage’s surprised me with his performance of Grug – it’s an affecting character, and he’s effective as the character. I say surprised because I guess I was expecting Bored Nic Cage or Crazy Nic Cage to make his presence known, but in actuality it seemed like Normal Nic Cage came to the recording sessions. Ryan Reynolds offered an always-ironic take on Guy, and while it works a fair amount of the time, his inability to really carve out any emotional weight behind his dialogue is indicative of just how bland Ryan Reynolds seems to have become. Catherine Keener, Cloris Leachman and Clarke Duke offer minimal support as the secondary characters in the Crood family, which is disappointing, because their talent deserved a little more from the film.
The Croods offers a delightful – if somewhat generic – animated outing that will entertain superficially, and is worth a look for its gorgeous animation and razor-sharp pacing. While the characters feel hodge-podge and plagiarized from other films, the combination of pacing and deft editing, coupled with that stunning animation, will make The Croods feel a whole lot more enjoyable that it probably is deep down. I nominally hate to compare every animated film I review with Pixar’s best work, but The Croods‘ story generics leave a large hole where Pixar would have poured their foundations. I’ll definitely watch this film again, and probably more than a few times, because it’s good for the kids, but the adult film critic inside me can’t help but feel just a little slighted by the candy-wrapping, hollow-interior way in which the film doesn’t really offer anything new or interesting to say.