THE CROODS Review

As the first animated film of 2013 The Croods doesn't necessarily stand out as an instant animated classic that will be played for years in the living rooms of growing families, but it is fun enough while it lasted. While I was never particularly attracted to the trailer as I didn't much care for the character design and the voice cast just seemed to be all too famous for the story and characters to seem more important than the people speaking the dialogue. Turns out, despite these cavemen sounding like Nicolas Cage (which is pretty great actually), Emma Stone, and Ryan Reynolds (who has another Dreamworks film on the way with Turbo, way to confuse the kids!) this film serves its purpose to the fullest and satisfies in some unexpected ways as well. Dreamworks as a studio has been climbing the quality ladder lately, since the release of both Kung fu Panda films and How to Train Your Dragon I have had more faith in them when it's been easier to doubt with the decline of the Shrek series and Rise of the Guardians under performing (though I rather enjoyed that film). In fact, it is fair to say I have many of the same thoughts concerning the two films. Both have a wonderful world that has been created for these characters to exist in yet it is simply the events of the story that seem less inspired and more along the lines of standard storytelling techniques to get across a well worn lesson for the kiddos. While there is no specific antagonist here other than nature itself and the conflict comes more from within the family dynamics the story still plays out with a somewhat dull beat by beat pace that doesn't pick up until too late in the film to really say I enjoyed it from start to finish. It is fine for what it is and even better than it has to be in some aspects, but it isn't great which would have been nice to see from Dreamworks as they have a real shot to start dominating the computer animation game.

Sandy (Randy Thom),  Ugga (Catherine Keener), Thunk (Clark Duke), Grug (Nicolas Cage), Eep (Emma Stone)
and Gran (Cloris Leachman) make up the titular family in The Croods.
Beginning with a somewhat ominous explanation of how Eep (Stone) and her family of cavemen with the titular name came to be the only ones left and how all of what they are afraid of will soon find its way into their lives. The story centers around Eep and her inner conflict with the fact she isn't allowed to live, but rather to just not die. It is a fairly profound statement for a children's animated film, but it helps summarize the lesson that The Croods intends to teach its audience. I was nearly hooked from the beginning as there were jokes that I genuinely responded to with a good laugh every few minutes and a thrilling, amazingly animated chase sequence that provides proof as to why Eep is so tired of living day to day in a dark cave only wandering out once in a while to try and find food that has to suffice for days on end. Her father, Grug (Cage) has trained his family to fear everything, but as Eep reaches that rebellious age she can do nothing but help to be curious about the outside world. When she does venture out at the sight of a light in the dark she's never seen before she stumbles upon a kind of human she's never met before. Known simply as Guy (Reynolds) he is immediately appealing to the primitive Eep as he has the power to make fire and signal each other from a distance with a simple shell. He also has a cute little sidekick (voiced by co-director Chris Sanders) that likes to add a little drama by pronouncing his only dialogue, "Da-da-daaaaaa!" not to mention he also serves as a device to hold up Guy's pants and is appropriately named Belt. I'm sure they will have (if they don't already) Belt toys that kids can wear around their waist and when you push his hand he lets out his signature phrase. It is a slick piece of marketing while being covered with enough cuteness we aren't distracted by it. Soon after Eep and Guy's chance meeting the Croods home caves in and they are forced to explore something new, a word Grug fears above all else.

The remainder of Eep's family is made up of a brother who provides most of the comic relief as he takes every word his father says as uncompromising fact and dares not to try anything different or new. As voiced by Clark Duke (The Office) Thunk turned out to be one of my favorite characters as he doesn't overdo his shtick, but instead pops in at just the right times to give us insight and great little quips that show off how well the filmmakers have managed all of the Croods misunderstandings about the world around them. Along with their mother Ugga (the always reliable Catherine Keener), their youngest daughter Sandy (Randy Thom) who is more animal than child and her mother Gran (Cloris Leachman) who nags and nags and forces Grug to take every opportunity he can to try and kill her off even if that means going along with Guy's plan to find a new cave. As I said in the beginning I wasn't really a fan of the character design in the first stills I saw of the film, but the filmmakers have designed such a wonderful universe for them to exist in the faces on these people come to matter little. What I was more impressed with about the film was how naturally it played up the natural rhythms of the story it was telling and how well it was incorporated to the world in which it was based. It was a scenario ripe with opportunity and that regard the film felt completely successful due to the numerous set pieces that have the Croods wandering through an undiscovered world and naturally coming across simple things that are made to be much bigger deals in their eyes. It is not only good to provide plenty of humor for both kids and the adults in the audience but it also helps to re-enforce that key message of trying new things and being unafraid to take on the day without fear while also sending a slightly troublesome message that all parents are Neanderthals and their is no harm in disregarding all they say.

Belt (Chris Sanders) hangs out with Guy (Ryan Reynolds) and Eep under the newly invented umbrella.
Clearly, that isn't the message this film is trying to place in the minds of kids watching the film, but it sure comes off that way when Grug is such a stick in the mud and has almost brainwashed his entire family into believing being afraid of everything is the only way to go. he is portrayed as a strong, but over protective parent who truly does want what is best for his family in that he just wants to keep them alive in a land of numerous threats, yet he is doing this at the cost of not allowing them to live a life fulfilled with the pleasures that make memories. It is a double edged sword but one that at least encourages independent thought and I can't say there is anything wrong with that, especially when it is so clear the films heart is in the right place. The film overall drags only slightly in the middle when Guy gets stuck in a log and carried around for what feels like forever before Grug consents to let him lead the way on their journey as he knows the land better and has things called "ideas" that no one else seems to recognize. Once the film hits the conflict between Guy and Grug and they reach the point of Grug's family beginning to turn on him and realize there might be more to life than what their protector has always warned them of the film hits a stride and doesn't slow down until it reaches its unavoidably redeeming conclusion. It is especially fun to hear Cage dig into his caveman character especially late in the film in a scene of desperation where Grug is coming up with ideas to compete with the innovation of Guy. It is a funny little scene that balances its humor with an underlying theme of poignancy that best sums up how the entire viewing experience felt. It resonated with good feelings after walking out of the theater even if it may not be as memorable as it could have been. I'm sure they'll get another chance to break the rules when Croods 2 takes a note from the Ice Age franchise and faces dinosaurs in the inevitable sequel.