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I Saw The Croods
April 8, 2013Posted by on
The staff of DreamWorks Animation may be overexerting themselves. This is their second feature-length film in five months, after November’s disastrous Rise of the Guardians. DreamWorks Animation has never been a studio to do the Pixar thing and release one film every year to year and a half. Even Blue Sky, the Fox-owned animation studio behind such hits as the Ice Age franchise and 2011’s Rio, doesn’t seem to release half as many computer-animated films as DreamWorks Animation. It makes sense then that the recently-released The Croods feels so inessential in a lot of ways. It is very much a B-tier film in the pantheon of computer-animated features. That’s not to say The Croods is a bad film – it has its moments for sure, but many parts are fairly lackluster when compared to the best of the Pixar, DreamWorks, and Blue Sky animated films.
The Croods is essentially the story of a family of cave people struggling to survive in an incredibly harsh environment. Everything in their lives is difficult, exhausting, and trying, and all the family has is each other. Patriarch Grug (voice of a spirited Nicolas Cage) is often at odds with his enthusiastic daughter Eep (Emma Stone, whose voice works incredibly well for animation) due to her naïve nature and inherent curiosity. When a mysterious nomad named Guy (voice of a low-key Ryan Reynolds) shows up portending doom and gloom for the caves, the Crood family must head to safer grounds, exploring their strange and exotic world for essentially the first time. The family runs afoul of strange creatures constantly trying to eat them, fierce volcanoes spewing ash and smoke, and treacherous tar pits out to trap them for eternity.
The plot isn’t much more complicated than that. The Croods must escape the various earthquakes, volcanoes, and wild animals that continually threaten their existence. The heart of the story lies with Grug, who must come to accept that mankind must evolve and move beyond the caves, and who must also reconcile with a daughter he truly loves but does not understand. The best moments in The Croods are not in the CGI-slapstick, cheap one-liners, and exotic landscape and animal designs. The best moments of the film come from the interactions between Grug, Eep, and Guy as they all come to an understanding and respect about how to best deal with the end of an era for humanity. The film is targeted at children so it doesn’t get too deep all too often unfortunately, but I did appreciate the parts focusing on these three characters.
The film also features the voice work of Catherine Keener, Clark Duke, and Cloris Leachman, who voices Gran, Grug’s mother-in-law. There is a recurring gag where Grug gets momentarily excited at the thought of Gran perishing horribly that is funny without being mortifying, but other than that there aren’t too many attempts to round-out these side characters. Additionally, the landscapes and animals are often exotically designed and animated, but they can be incredibly ugly to look at. I feel the same way about The Croods themselves. The titular family can be hard to look at, but Eep and younger sister Sandy (a toddler who cannot speak yet and therefore communicates in feral grunts) are adorable in their own way. Grug himself looks just enough like Nicolas Cage to be entertaining to me.
The Croods was originally intended as a stop-motion feature, and began production way back in 2005. Various delays, departures, and director changes resulted in quite the lengthy production schedule for the film. The final product itself is decent, but the script ends up being a bit of a disappointment for me. The movie had the potential as well as the talent (co-director Chris Sanders is largely responsible for Lilo and Stitch and How to Train Your Dragon) to be great, but fell more on the side of average-to-good. I liked the interplay between Grug, Guy, and especially daughter Eep, but it wasn’t quite enough to sustain a 90-minute movie. Despite a few solid voice performances from Cage, Stone, and Reynolds (whose low-key attitude works well for Guy), The Croods is merely a decent computer-animated movie overall. It’s a trifle for sure, but worth at least the price of a rental.