I had absolutely no interest in seeing The Croods until I found out that John Cleese wrote the original script a decade ago. That sold me. Well, Cleese and the fact that the screening was on a Saturday morning – a time when I inherently want to watch cartoons. When the lights came back on 90 minutes later, I kept my 3D glasses on so no one could see that I had been tearing up. I’m telling you guys, The Croods hit me in all my weak emotional spots – like it was tailor-made to mess me up. And it’s also a genuinely sweet and entertaining film with plenty of subversive humor for the adults.
The film’s had a rocky past. It was first announced back in 2005 under the title Crood Awakening (groan) and as a stop-motion film. John Cleese penned the original draft alongside the guy who wrote Space Chimps. Then it was put no hold so DreamWorks could focus on How to Train Your Dragon. It kept getting pushed back, which is never a good sign for a project. The filmmakers persevered, however, and The Croods is being released everywhere this weekend.
It’s the dawn of a new age and the cavemen of the world are either evolving or dying off from diseases and bigger carnivores. The Croods are one such family of cave-dwellers. Led by slope-headed patriarch Grug (Nicolas Cage), the family has managed to survive thanks to his unshakable belief in fearing the outside world. He drills it in that anything new is dangerous and leaving the vicinity of the cave will lead to certain doom. These stringent rules don’t agree with his horny teen daughter, Eep (Emma Stone), who longs for a life outside of the dark cave walls where she can finally get away from her stubborn grandma, idiot brother, and rabid baby sister. Eep is really ugly but she still has Emma Stone’s smoky voice, so I was conflicted.
She sneaks away one night and runs into the next step in evolution: Guy (ironically voiced by Ryan Reynolds). Guy wears a shell necklace and knows how to make fire, so she’s instantly enamored with him. He warns Eep that the world is shortly coming to an end and that he’s on his way to a safe land called “tomorrow.” She buys into his foreboding prophecy, but it’s only after the family cave is swallowed by the earth that the rest of the Croods are convinced that their salvation lies in following this goofball. They journey with him over the mountain where they stumble through a bizarre new world filled with strange creatures and trippy landscapes. It’s in this new land that the Croods are put to the test as a family.
Each member of the family has their own unique special moves, like in a video game: Grug is wicked strong and can throw stuff really far, Eep does parkour, the grandma has a reptilian tail, Guy is an idea-man, and the baby is like the Tasmanian Devil. The family combines powers to take on the myriad of perils in the new land. The menagerie of creatures they encounter are still evolving, so each design is basically a hybrid of two animals. There are mice that look like elephants and parrot-pirahnas, that sort of thing. All of the designs are clever and excellent.
The animation is the best I’ve seen in years. It makes Avatar look like it was created on MS Paint ’95. I don’t know what rendering wizards DreamWorks summoned but they got their money’s worth. Some of the wide, rolling landscape scenes are unreal and there’s sharp detail everywhere – from strands of hair to flecks of dust.
The heart of the film is found in the convincing familial struggles the Croods endure. Grug is old school caveman – he believes in brawn over brain to protect his family, because he doesn’t know any other way. When Guy comes along with all of his inventions and ideas, Grug becomes depressingly jealous. He sees Eep falling for him and everyone keeps commenting on how Guy is saving their asses. It’s a real blow to his patriarchal pride. Stories about father’s doing their best to provide for their family in an ungrateful world always get me in the gut and The Croods really put me through the wringer.
The script is consistently witty with plenty of dark humor mixed in alongside slapstick – yes, people get hit with rocks a lot. It’s a kid’s movie so there’s lots of sure-fire jokes, such as Belt, Guy’s pet sloth that talks in that high-pitched voice that makes children lose their mind no matter what. It’s the end of the world that forced the Croods out of their home, so there’s a strong sense of death surrounding the film. Again, it’s a kid’s movie so no one actually dies, but each character suffers a moral death and is reborn again in the new world.
There are some clunky pacing issues, which are probably due to several people rewriting the script over the past decade. Overall though it’s a clever and highly entertaining film that’s stunningly realized and treats fragile family dynamics seriously. I recommend seeing it in theaters to absorb yourselves in the rich animation or just stay at home because you’re too cool to go to a kid’s movie.- Patrick Cooper