The Croods: Good, But A Bit Conflicted

By Sandra Olmsted

Although the interdependence of Neanderthals and early modern man is disputed, the director Kirk De Micco and Chris Sanders’ beautifully animated film, The Croods, makes a good case for this alliance. As the last remaining family group from a band Neanderthals picked off by natural selection and bad luck, The Croods rely on timid mottos like “Fear keeps us alive” and “Never not be afraid” spouted regularly by the patriarch Grug (voice of Nicolas Cage) but also very intrepidly procures food in the opening sequences. Aside from suggesting that Neanderthals invented football, their Hail-Mary-Pass hunting trip is so well rehearsed and practiced that the Croods’ survival should be assured.

However, big changes are headed their way because the continents are breaking apart and their children are growing up, especially teenage daughter Eep (voice of Emma Stone). She hates hiding in the darkness of the family cave and longs to live in the light, which symbolizes the film’s themes of enlightenment. Ugga (voice of Catherine Keener), her mom, is sympathetic to Eep’s teen angst but has other family members to care for: Eep’s younger siblings, the dimwitted Thunk (voice of Clark Duke) and the very feral infant Sandy, plus her own mother, Gran (voice of Cloris Leachman).

One night Eep, a sun-loving California girl at heart, defies all the rules by sneaking out to investigate a mysterious light and meets an early modern boy named Guy (voice of Ryan Reynolds), who has fire and warns her that terrible changes are coming. He offers to lead her away from the danger, but Eep has too much loyalty to her family to simply abandon them for literally the first boy who comes along.

Grug and the family are out looking for her when an earthquake crushes the cave they would have been hiding in otherwise. With little other options, the Croods and Guy, with his sloth sidekick Belt (voiced by co-director Sanders) form a partnership. The Croods need Guy’s knowledge, and Guy needs the Crood’s brute strength if they are all going to survive the tumultuous changes, falling rocks, lava flows, and predators, but will they all reach the utopian safety of the distance mountains, Guy calls “tomorrow”?

The film looks beautiful with absolute cutting edge rendering of colorful settings and imaginative, but improbable, creatures and fantastic plant life. The 3D is used to perfection to emphasize the story and to wow the audience without being cheesy.

To emphasize the theme of enlightenment, the rendering of fire, sunlight, moonlight, twinkling stars, glowing lava, etc. has been done with exceptional care and creativity with light playing over skin, fur, flowers, feathers, scales, rock surfaces, water, etc., and cinematographer Roger Deakins. He serves as a visual consultant on The Croods, exhibited similar talents on DreamWorks’ How to Train Your Dragon. The magnificent and colorful, but more derivative than wholly original, Rube-Goldberg-esque critters and impressive flora, however, owe a nod to at least Maurice Sendak and the creators of Avatar, respectively. The contrived, Looney Tunes’ slapstick action, like the routines practiced by Wile E. Coyote, and inventions of the characters are believable only for the youngest audience members. The storyline, furthermore, mimic those used in The Land Before Time and Ice Age franchises, but the big dramatic event of this time period is the changing earth and climate.

The film was originally conceived under the catchier title of Crood Awakening and was intended to re-team stellar stop-animation studio Aardman, of Wallace and Gromit fame, with Dreamworks, and the script retains a writing credit for John Cleese, but, unfortunately, very little of his humor.

The uneven script has moments of charm and humor, but very little for any but the youngest viewers. Children, who won’t be put off by the many threats to the family’s life, will be delighted, but teens and even some tweens, will not find the milquetoast romance between Eep and Guy powerful enough to carry the film. With only weak conflicts between Eep and Grug over Guy and between Grug and Guy, the film lacks a flesh-and-blood villain, and the period earthquake and lava reminders of the man-versus-nature theme serve only to set up gags. Some of the gags that work, such as the invention of popcorn and shoes, while other are just too blatantly violent to work as well, such as the snapshot. The action scenes benefit from Alan Silvestri’s score.

The rendering of characters are much less sophisticated than the backgrounds and settings, and many lack the character development to engage a wide audience. Although Eep is certainly not a Barbie-Doll princess, she still has an overly-feminized shape and ultimately needs a man to save her despite her own brains and incredible physical strength.

Cage has become a solid voice actor, but Grug, the anxious dad and protector, and Guy, the orphaned survivor, aren’t terribly likable. The rest of the family are very note stock characters.  The Croods, DreamWorks Animation production and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation release, is rated PG for some scary action and runs 98 minutes. The Croods is in theaters now.

(More of Olmsted’s reviews are available at www.thecinematicskiny.com.)

 



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