It’s not odd or unusual that to find timeless advice which benefits our future we should look to the past. However it is odd that we should find sage-like advice and a timeless tale about family values in an animated film about cave men. Yet here we are getting a “Father Knows Best”, rather thinks he knows best life-lesson in the form of this charmingly witty and heart-warming tale from DreamWorks Animation.
The plot of The Croods is standard familial fare; a young girl Eep (Emma Stone) yearns for the freedom beyond the confines of her house (in this story, a cave) and the conservative restraints put upon her by her over-protective father Grug (Nic Cage). But that boiler plate outline is about the only thing that’s not highly original and inspired in this fun-filled thrill ride. In nearly every category, The Croods just shines as so many elements come together to make this pre-hysteric tale work. Chief among them are the stellar voice talent, lovable characters, fantastic digital effects including immersive 3D (that actually benefits the story and is far from the gimmicky “ohh, look out, stuff’s flying at you“), and finally Alan Silvestri.
Grug is the head of the family and lays out rules for the family which keeps them alive. Basically anything new is bad and everything outside the cave leads to certain death. After all, all their neighbors have died (through swift cave drawing exposition we learn of their demise in comically horrible ways) and it reaffirms and justifies Grug‘s reasons for his extreme cautiousness and paranoia. The family’s lives change when they meet Guy (Ryan Reynolds) who is essentially caveman 2.0. He tells The Croods of the end of the world and that the only way to survive is to leave the cave and follow him…somewhere else. They must leave the cave and travel to safety, yet how he knows that, or why he is so advanced (with fire, clothes and an adorable sidekick sloth named Belt) is not made clear. So while the family is taken with Guy it is Grug who is the most resistant to change. His reluctance to be won over provides some tangible emotional conflict in the family that is at times more demanding of resolution than their need to save themselves from extinction.
The Croods escape peril travelling through jaw-droppingly lush settings and learn to embrace/accept the world outside the cave. At the same time Grug starts to lose the control he’s had over them for so long. His unending pratfalls (which become the physical representation of the invisible wall he keeps running into with his family) get a little tired as Chris Sanders and Kirk De Micco hammer the idea home more than is needed. Rightly the family starts thinking for themselves and find they are strong and smart enough to fend for themselves, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need Grug. This almost neverending trek for survival finds them facing increasingly larger and more creatively fascinating threats but in the end it’s up to Grug to apply what he’s learned from Guy to save his family.
Sure it’s all telegraphed but the legitimate fun and excitement that lies underneath the uninspiring advertising will win over just about anyone in the audience. The Croods is a feast for the eyes, hearts and funny bone. It’s filled with wonderment of the most imaginative kind as the family travels through some of the most colorful, fun and inventive settings populated by some of the most wondrous creatures ever imagined. For instance, an owl-jaguar and pint-sized piranha flamingos are but a few of the sights and dangers to behold. The Croods is a typical typecast family but the film knows what it is and embraces the childish nature. However, the universal messages provide lots of depth to characters who are far more real than they appear at first glance.
From Emma Stone to Ryan Reynolds, Catherine Keener and even Clark Duke (who is finally getting closer to being fully utilized as he should for his great comedic beats) everyone is so well suited to their roles yet none more so than Nic Cage. Great talent aside, Grug’s arc is the most earned and substantive and like his turn as Big Daddy in Kick-Ass is an unlikely but perfect fit. While he may be an eclectic actor with a love him or leave him fan base his pre-historic patriarch is just one of the many winning elements on display.
The Croods is a well-rounded family drama set between a series of action-packed escape scenes as the family tries to outrun the end of the world. It’s repeatedly formulaic and the slapstick, which is over-abundant to some extent, only serves to, like a video game, get them to the next area and bridge the story bits. Nothing wrong with it as the cuteness of the characters and again the jaw-dropping animation (in 3D!) downplays the kid-friendly triteness. The humor will make adults laugh more than the kids and seaming this all together is Alan Silvestri‘s cheery and meaningful musical score that really gives The Croods just the right tone and adds a dash of heart.
There is a difference between calling this goofy colorful fun and worth the time while contrarily calling Oz the Great and Powerful goofy colorful fun and a waste of time. The key distinction to the former is a trifecta of a better story, engaging characters, and humor that is legitimately funny (the latter has none of those) and that gives this similarly Skittles-fueled roller-coaster ride some real depth and tons of heart. In short, odd name and marketing aside, The Croods is just another reason Pixar had better keep watching their backs and continue to step up their game.
The Croods, up, down and sideways is another solid, fun-filled DreamWorks film on the heels of How To Train Your Dragon and an equally unexpected hit in the making. It has its drawbacks, like the reliance on the slap-stick for nearly an entire sequence/segment to run the clock, or get to the next scene. But there is an underlying charm that will make the film, its message and humor so much more appealing than one might suspect after seeing the trailers. Do yourself a favor and enjoy the wild, vibrantly colorful and absolutely hysterical ride. All in all, The Croods is the most colorfully inventive world building since Avatar and the best family bonding film since The Incredibles.